|Imagine a game where the cast of Final Fantasy and characters from every major Disney movie unite against the forces of evil. Square did just that more than six years ago when they began developing Kingdom Hearts, an original tale about an adventurous boy named Sora. Voiced by the immensely talented Haley Joel Osment, Sora had something rarely found in video-game characters: depth. Both Haley's performance and the story written for Sora were equal in quality, crushing the average RPG, and giving Square's own Final Fantasy a run for its money.
There have been a lot of changes to the RPG industry since that time. Good story telling has taken a backseat to good gameplay (it sounds like a good idea, but it's the stories that made most of us play these games in the first place). The music isn't as original. Character artwork is getting stale. And the two biggest RPG developers in the world came together as one, now going by the name Square Enix.
With so many changes, and disappointment after disappointment, I wouldn't let myself get excited for the year's most anticipated RPG, Kingdom Hearts II. I stayed away from press releases, and didn't even regret the fact that I missed it at last year's E3. Was I crazy? Most certainly. But I didn't know that at the time. Nor did I know that if I had read about what this game has to offer, it would've spoiled what is turning out to be the greatest story told on PlayStation 2.
Starring Sora, Goofy, Donald, and over 100 other Disney and Final Fantasy characters, Kingdom Hearts II continues the journey with refined gameplay, beautiful music, gorgeous scenery, and a fool-proof camera system. Witness the worlds of several Disney movies come to life. The 3D imagery is just as impressive as the original 2D artwork.
As I advanced from location to location, and aided in the success of Disney heroes and heroines, I couldn't help but think of the decades of wonderful movies that Walt brought us. If I thought long and hard about it I'd probably think the concept was crazy – Aeris from Final Fantasy VII interacting with ... well, I can't say who, but it's very unusual and completely unexpected. The initial shock has likely faded for most people who played the first game, but I'm still baffled. And amazed.
Against all odds, the pairing of worlds is as charming as it is entertaining. I smile every single time a new character comes on screen, whether he or she came from a Disney masterpiece or an unforgettable Final Fantasy.
Many of the Disney scenarios are based on their respective movies, thus the story should be instantly familiar to everyone. Expect a lot of great jokes and amusing references, as well as voice-overs from the films' top actors. (Telling you who would spoil the surprise, but if you must know, peruse this press release.) There are also a few great references to Final Fantasy, one of which dates back to a recent PlayStation 2 adventure. That's all I'll say.
It's easy to get lost in Kingdom Hearts II's story, given how deep and entertaining it is, but make no mistake: this is a top-of-the-line action/RPG. The combat is brilliant with a three-character system that puts you in control of Sora at all times. The other characters – Donald and Goofy at first, I'm not at liberty to say who else – are controlled automatically. You can set up how they battle via the menu screen, switching between simple options that, for example, will adjust the likelihood of them using a particular attack.
Kingdom Hearts II has a great attack system that lets you equip special moves as you would weapons and armor. New moves are gained pretty quickly – it seemed like I learned a new one with every level increase. Once learned, these moves may be equipped via the menu screen. They're limited by the number of AP (presumably Attack Points) you have, which are also gained through leveling. If you don't have enough AP for a specific move, that move cannot be equipped.
Thus far AP has been plentiful. There are AP boost items that increase your AP rating by one, and may be applied to any character you choose. Being the greedy gamer that I am, I allocated all of my AP boost items to Sora, the character I get to control. That could backfire later if Donald and Goofy learn new moves that can't be equipped, but that's why I keep several save files. As of this preview I had 10 different saves. I assume I'll have more by the time I reach the end.
Musically Kingdom Hearts II left me speechless. Every world, every location, every place I visited was enhanced with the most beautiful music. The music of Disney. Kingdom Hearts II's composer(s) took well over a dozen classic Disney themes and – I don't want to say re-wrote, but there is definitely something new to the way they've been applied to this game. They're instantly distinguishable, yet somehow unique. It's absolutely brilliant.
The new music perfectly complements the classics, merging the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy in the most memorable way possible.
Coming March 28th, Kingdom Hearts II isn't just another RPG, nor is it just another sequel to a game that sold over six million copies. If you know Disney, and if you know Final Fantasy, you will be enamored with this game the second the title screen music starts. Don't miss it, and don't miss our full review of Kingdom Hearts II on March 28th.