Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Video Game Assessment: Kingdom Hearts II (2005)

I have returned to the land of reviewers with an assessment of the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, a game that I not only really enjoyed, but that I also felt was one of the better games I have ever played. So, you may be asking, does it compare well compared to the first game? Well, that is a much more complicated answer.

The first game was a sweet and epic journey through different worlds for an ultimate goal of finding the main character, Sora's, friends, Riku and Kairi, and to defeat a man so full of darkness that his darkness became sentient, "Ansem". And this journey was beautiful and stunning, taking one through many different Disney environments, all while having exploration to it. It never told you how fast you needed to go, or what you needed to do, or even what level you needed to be. The game was very much up to the person playing it. For instance, I took my time, did all of the bonus bosses and played with my Gummi ship so much I don't think I'd ever be happier. Now, the two things that I loved about that game, the doll and the Gummi ship are technically still present in the second game,... but... well, I'll get to that.

The first game had absolutely stunning maps, especially towards the endgame, and the boss fights were almost all spectacular with a few exceptions. There was very little in the first game I could complain about. It all felt good, felt real, felt like a wonderful story unfolding before me with really good gameplay and a terrible camera.

Well, Kingdom Hearts II (From now on referred to as KHII) improves upon some things from the first game, and screws some things up so terribly that they may never be fixed. Let me explain.

Now, I didn't play the Final Mix or anything like that because I am not a crazy person or Japanese. I went out and bought KHII, not knowing that I was getting gypped of my precious dodge roll. Now, that may seem like an idle complaint, but you don't understand. The dodge roll was one of the best things of KH and not having it in the second game severely restricted quick movement. Yes, there was a speed dash in the game, but it was no dodge roll and therefore was not as fun. I don't understand why it wasn't in the game when it was so fun and enjoyable to do.

The Gummi ships seemed to be incredibly expanded as well, but... for whatever reason I didn't have anywhere near as much fun with the complex Gummi ships and maps in KHII as I did with the simplistic and silly system in the first game. Something about it became a little less fun. Don't get me wrong, it was still really enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as the first game.

Then there are the fights, especially some boss fights. I have to rant about this because this is one way this game has radically improved upon the first game and radically gone splatting against a wall in some ways too. Now, there were hard boss fights in KH. (Sephiroth, Kurt, and the Phantom stick out in my mind.) but none were impossible even if tough. They were fights that involved the player having a certain amount of skill with the system and the game itself. Well, KHII through some of that away. Many of the fights, boss fights especially are what is known in the business as "gimmick fights" which is exactly what it sounds like. Most involved doing something specific to the enemy that wasn't necessarily just wailing on it. Now, that's not a bad thing necessarily, but it gets annoying when unexpected gimmicks happen in every other fight and the fights actually become gradually more frustrating the longer you play. I spammed the triangle button so often in some fights it was literally ridiculous. I hate button mashing like that. I like a nice and easy way to play video games, with skill rather than punching buttons. So, in general the gameplay was much worse, although I will shout out a nice word to the drive forms and summons which were useful and fun. I wish I had started using them earlier in the game rather than putting it off until the end. I probably would have had more fun if I had done that. But the game was fun in its own special way, just not quite as fun to play as the first game.

Some of the bosses were absolutely awesome in a way that none of the bosses from the first game were, like some of the Organization XIII. Oh, you don't know about the Organization XIII? Never heard of them before this moment because I never mentioned them in my review of the first game? Well, they're new. Technically they were introduced in the GameBoy Advanced title Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which I had planned to review before this. Then I found out that the game was literally impossible to have fun with. It has a card battle system which is confusing and hard to follow. It is completely different from either other game. It made it hard to play or understand. So, I played as long as I could and got the rest of the story online in various places. I may try to play the PlayStation 2 port of the game at some point, but that's neither here nor there. Basically I'm bringing this up because it introduces a group of characters called "Organization XIII", which actually has/had fourteen member in it. I know it's confusing. But they are a group of things called Nobodies, which are bodies and minds without "hearts", which is the KH equivalent of a soul. They cannot feel and therefore use and mess with the main characters. Well, in that game multiple Organization members are killed and the rest are dealt with in KHII.

And that gets us into the plot. It is confusing at points. The main character Sora has been in hibernation for about a year as he waits for memories to get returned to him. The game though, starts you out playing another character, Roxas. I'll give you a second to think about how he relates to Sora. Hint: Organization members like Xs. Well, for about five hours of gameplay Roxas is theplayer character and he goes through various strange occurrences until he finds the people who are messing with him and realizes what he was needed for... and then Sora is the player character again for the rest, or nearly the rest, of the game. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but let's say that before the character change there is at least one scene that is very sad... and I'll leave it at that.

So, the story seems a lot less defined this time around. Sora, Goofy, and Donald are searching for Riku and (King) Mickey Mouse respectively. But their journey takes them across Disney worlds again and not all of it really seems relevant to any real plot. The big enemies seem to really be the Organization and their goal of taunting Sora (at the very least). Sora defeats them all of them in turn, with some being freaking ridiculous to fight, like Xaldin, yeah, special shout out to the jerk Xaldin... Although most of them were really fun. These fights also show a darker side to Sora as well, especially after the Demyx fight, when Sora gets a little bloodthirsty after vanquishing him. Each member fight is memorable in their own way, and although some were on the trickier or more frustrating side (Xaldin, I'm looking at you.). The last fight in the game is number one in the Organization, Xemnas, who is the first game's "Ansem's" Nobody. And the fight is pretty freaking awesome. The Nobodies in general are pretty awesome, but they appear in the game much less than the Heartless, as harder enemies than they are.

Well, there are other memorable characters and plots, but the main one is Sora meeting back up with his friends and stopping the artificial Kingdom Hearts from being completed, which is what the Organization ultimately wanted. They all, or most of them, wanted hearts of their own so that they could feel again, and they felt justified doing anything to get their hearts back. Well, Sora stops them and meets Kairi, the girl he seems to love and who seems to love him back, and his best friend, Riku.

Now, Riku is interesting. In the last game he was the biggest of jerks, and in this one he is ashamed of himself, hiding from the light, from his friends, and working in the shadows trying to make everything up to everybody, feeling he is not good enough for them. Sora tries to find Riku the entire game, but Riku was always close to Sora, helping him through his year of sleep, doing whatever he could, and watching his friend from the shadows while being to ashamed of embracing darkness to face him. There is depth to his character, but it seems so strange why it wasn't mentioned earlier in the game. Why did the game have to wait until incredibly late to focus on such an interesting, real, and somewhat dark take on a character like this?

And the character problems abound as well. Sora seems dumber in this game and very hard to relate to. Goofy is somehow ridiculously smart. And Donald is greedy. Why? The characterization I liked the best was with Riku... and weirdly enough King Mickey. Their friendship almost brought a manly tear to my eye and I wonder why the game couldn't have concentrated on that more. It was so cute and well done. I've become invested in this series basically because of Riku and his relationships with other characters. Why can't all the rest of the characters be that complex and amazing?

My favorite part of the entire game, bar none, was the thirty seconds I had the chance to play as Riku. Never Forget.

The endgame was well done in general and the cutscenes although sometimes longer never seemed obtrusive. The game seemed so much bigger than the first one, probably because it was more serious, more adult, and in some ways harder to forgive for some of the mistakes and errors it did make. It should have been a better game than the first one, and... it really wasn't. And I find that hard to swallow because it should have been. But things that should have been concentrated on were pushed aside in favor of more "fan-friendly" ideas. Or at least that's what it seemed like. I feel that the story and characters were mostly compromised and that doesn't feel right to me. It doesn't sit right.

One other thing I have to mention. Where are all the strong females? Yes, I know there's Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, but I don't own that game and probably never will. Why aren't Kairi or Namine strong? It doesn't sit well is all I'm saying.

I may do some more KH stuff eventually... or not... I have no idea, but I do hope that KHIII is good and not simply fanservice. I guess I'll give an imaginary drink of hope to it being amazing quality (and having a dodge roll) like the first game, but having some of the balls of the second game, especially in the darkness and humanization it showed through Riku. Basically I just want Riku to be the main character or close to it. Not that I hate herp-derp Sora, but... well... the nickname I give him "Lil' Herp-Derp" should tell you exactly what think about him.

Anyway, it's a good game, but not nearly as good as the first one for the most part. It can be fluctuate between frustrating and ridiculously fun, but if you enjoyed the first game at all, then the second game is a must-play for you.

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