Kingdom Hearts – 2 – Review

g-kingdomhearts200Kingdom Hearts 2

(Square Enix for PS2)
by Mike Delano

Let’s be honest. Even by Square standards, where insufferably cute characters frolic side by side with insufferably tortured Clay Aiken look-alikes on quests for meaning, playing an RPG with Disney characters is pretty friggin’ silly.

Some reviews seem to miss this point. They talk about the game’s storyline and characters and graphics without once mentioning that your every move is followed by Donald quacking some incoherent babble and Goofy hee-hawing some “Aw, shucks” sentiment. This doesn’t feel like a game that should be played by anyone over the age of 12.

So why the widespread appeal? In many ways, this is the perfect RPG for beginners, a training wheels introduction to the world of Square RPGs, which have essentially defined the genre since Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997.

Like few other games, the dozens of hours and endless patience required to even crack the surface of a Square epic fully repels most casual gamers. But they’re missing out on some of the best gaming experiences around, from the expertly scored III to the grand set pieces of VII to the downright affecting character interaction of X.

The overblown theatrics of the series started to get stale right around the turn of the century, though, and some minor tweaks to the outdated turn-based battle system since then haven’t been enough to pull it out of a slump.

The Kingdom Hearts series gets things right from the get-go with real-time battles. Sure, it’s pretty generic hack ‘n’ slash stuff with awkward magic commands, but it’s worlds smoother than the jerky, slow-motion battles of yesteryear. The grand environments, from port towns at sunset to snow-covered mountains, deserve to be more than run-throughs, and they work well as battlefields.

Be thankful for the fast-paced action, because this game has lots of storyline. Too much. There are so many cut scenes and so much dialogue that it frequently grinds the flow of the game to a halt, which only serves to advance an absurd storyline that combines the most gratingly cute Disney clichés with Square’s penchant for mopey, existential crises.

But while the Disney and Square union serves to exacerbate their individual weaknesses, they also trade on each others’ strengths. Disney has never put its characters in a game so well-designed (see any of their movie-based games for the past five years for evidence), and Square has enough respect for the Disney audience to not subject them to the intensive strategic elements or time-consuming level-up process that gives hardcore gamers their hard-ons.