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Disney, Square Enix reunites for ‘Hearts’

Nicole Dorner | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Many laughed at the thought of “Final Fantasy” characters such as Cloud Strife fighting alongside Donald and Goofy from the Disney stable. But after the shocking smash hit “Kingdom Hearts” took the gaming world by storm in 2002, Square Enix and Disney join forces once again for “Kingdom Hearts II.”

The game starts off where “Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories” ended. Sora and his companions awaken from their yearlong slumber, and continue their quest to find King Mickey. Experience with the previous games is essential, as the player is thrust into this sequel with little explanation.

The player is given immediate control not of Sora, the young male protagonist of the original, but Roxas. He shares many characteristics with Sora with the exception that he wields dual-Keyblades. Roxas explores Twilight Town, and eventually discovers Sora and his slumbering companions in the basement of a mansion featured in “Chain of Memories.” He disappears as they awaken, but continues to play a role through the rest of the story. His segment serves as a mere tutorial to the game ahead and to introduce new gamers to the “Kingdom Hearts” control scheme.

At first glance, the controls are nearly identical to “Kingdom Hearts” – gamers control Sora’s actions through a command menu in real time. However, KHII adds a few new abilities to Sora’s lineup, mainly the Drive Gage. With it Sora can merge with one or two members in his party, becoming even more powerful and gaining some amazing abilities.

The Drive system adds depth of the battles, and is also fairly easy to control. The player is also given more control over how the teammates act during a battle. The exact tactics that the computer partners employ are up to the player’s discretion.

The new Reaction Commands are an awesome addition to the “Kingdom Hearts” library of attacks – they force the player to pay attention to what’s going on in the battle and adds a new dynamic to the battle. These commands allow the player to pull off visually stunning stunts that dramatically impact gameplay. For example, mastering Reaction commands is vital to defeating some bosses.

One of the biggest complaints with the original was the Gummi ship. Sora used this ship to travel to the different planets, and was a complete chore to control for gamers. This time around, it controls like a first person shooter and feels more like a natural extension of the gameplay as opposed to a forced, annoying mini-game.

However, some things were not improved from the original. While some of the voice acting is well done, some sound as if amateurs performed them and are very dull and monotone. The flow of the game is almost the same as KH1 – visit world A, defeat the Heartless/Nobodies in world A, fight a boss, make everyone happy, go to world B, wash rinse repeat. And though some of the worlds are new (Space Paranoids, the amazing Tron world, Port Royal, Pride Land, etc.), they still brought back many of the same worlds from the first game (Agrabah, Halloween Town, 100 Acre Wood).

The game is also relatively short compared to other role-playing games on the market, with completion time ranging as low as 20 hours. The standard difficulty is quite easy, and button-mashing works as well as a refined strategy most of the time. However, fans of Disney and Square Enix will find plenty to like here, and even those casual gamers will find a cinematic, gripping experience.