Tuesday, April 25, 2006

VG REVIEW: Kingdom Hearts II

Square-Enix, for PlayStation 2
rat­ed E10+ for ages 10 and up (mild blood, use of alcohol, violence), $49.99.

Kingdom Hearts II" is what is known in certain parlances as a "sure thing" — a game that is certain to appeal to a variety of folks. Except, perhaps, those who crave compelling game play.

"KH II" is a sequel to the popular 2002 game that matched up well-known Disney franchises with characters from the "Final Fantasy" series to create a rather ambitious role-playing game experience.

I wasn’t a big fan of the original game; I quickly grew tired of its shaky camera and dull, repetitive battle system. "Kingdom Hearts II" does improve things a bit, but not enough to make me recommend it.

The plot involves a young lad with a penchant for puffy pants named Sora (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) who, along with Donald Duck and Goofy, sets out to stop the Heartless, a nefarious group of creatures bent on plunging the world into darkness.

This time there’s also the shady Organization XIII, who employ odd creatures called nobodies to do something bad no doubt. The game isn’t clear on specifics. Sadly, if you’re not familiar with the first "Hearts" game or its Game Boy spin-off, "Chain of Memories," you’re going to be lost here.

Along the way on your adventures you’ll team up with such Disney characters as Beast from "Beauty and the Beast," Mulan, Stitch and the Little Mermaid. Even Captain Jack Sparrow and the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean put in an appearance.

The best improvement in "KH II" is the camera. It’s more responsive and less nausea-inducing than last time, though it still tends to get stuck in corners and other awkward angles at inappropriate times.

One of the most annoying aspects of the first game, the Gummi Ship sequences, has also been improved. Now flying between worlds resembles more a frenetic arcade shooter and less a sloppy piece of coding.

Unfortunately, the meat of the game — the combat — is still remarkably underwhelming. It’s far too easy to wade through a sea of Heartless by repeatedly mashing the X button.

The developers have included special "reaction commands" and "limit breaks" that allow you to perform impressive acrobatic moves, sometimes with help from folks in your party. But for the most part these additions feel like afterthoughts and do nothing to remedy the utter boredom that sets in after your 50th battle.

"KH II" boasts sumptuous production values, not just in the art style and decoration (perhaps the most impressive thing about the game) but also in the voice work by folks like Osment and Christopher Lee.

It’s not hard to see why the series has garnered such a devoted following. The ability to play in a world where you fight side by side with the Lion King, Aladdin and Jack Skellington from "A Nightmare Before Christmas" has great appeal.

But "KH II" is a shallow exercise. It’s all flash and little fun. Disney and "Final Fantasy" fans will no doubt be entranced by the snazzy spectacle. Others, however, will quickly notice there’s little holding up all that fine scenery.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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