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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Video Game Connoisseur

Mario

Mario

Kingdom Hearts 2/ Publisher: Square Enix / System: PS2 / $49.99/ ESRB: E 10 (Everyone 10)

I didn’t want to like Kingdom Hearts II. In fact, I wanted to completely ignore it. But like the annoying guy who sits behind you in the theater and yaks on his cellphone, I could only ignore its existence for so long. Once again I was united with Sora, Donald, and Goofy.

My friends and I are heavy users of Square Enix products and have been chronicling something we have dubbed “Endless Tutorial Mode.” Now every game has a period in which you are simply introduced to the games controls without throwing you into too difficult situations. Tutorial modes tend to end when the real story gets under way. Square Enix created some games with exceedingly long tutorial modes, thus “Endless Tutorial Mode” – or ETM for brevity.

Up to this point, the longest ETM was in Final Fantasy 8, which leads the player all over the starting city and takes him through a dungeon before the game finally lets go of his hand like a parent who believes his child is finally ready to walk across the street on his own. In Kingdom Hearts II, the “tutorial mode” lasts for approximately three and a half hours before letting go and getting the story under way. Three long hours before you can take control of your party and wander out into the world. Three hours before you can really play the frigging game. Three hours… the epitome of “Endless Tutorial Mode”.

Anyway – now that that’s out of the way – the game takes place one year after the GBA in-between game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, which itself takes place immediately after Kingdom Hearts. Apparently the main character Sora and his Disney companions Donald and Goofy spent the year asleep in some kind of suspended animation (don’t ask). Unfortunately they didn’t destroy all of the Heartless, the enemies from the first game, and they are confronted by two new enemies: the Nobodies and the mysterious Organization XIII. And they still have to complete their mission to find Sora’s friend Riku and King Mickey.

The gameplay is like the first one, you travel around to worlds based on the Disney animated movies, help the characters with their problems, and advance the plot by one step. This time they have a few new worlds and some return favorites. There is really nothing special about the returning worlds, it’s two of the new ones that you must see to believe: Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron. That’s right Tron. First of all neither of these movies were animated – disregarding that Johnny Depp looks and acts like a cartoon. Think about Tron. It is actually kind of deep, a movie about video games ends up in a video game about movies, very meta. Funny story, after playing the Tron world I decided I’d had enough of Tron for the night so I go to watch some TV, and what’s on? Tron.

The Controls are like the previous game only tweaked and streamlined for smoother game play. Adding a new dimension to the real time battles is the addition of the reaction button. By hitting the triangle button on the controller at certain times when fighting certain enemies you can ‘react’ to them in different ways, some enemies you just sidestep around to behind them. Others you hit with a devastating blow and sometimes you deflect a one hit kill. The reaction button make the battles a little more interesting than just hitting the attack button over and over.

Kingdom Hearts II marks the first time Mickey Mouse makes an appearance – not only help you but occasionally to take over and allow you to control him if your party gets wiped out in certain boss battles. Another addition is a drive ability which temporally removes one or more characters to give Sora a temporary power boost and abilities like increased magic power, or the ability to wield two weapons at once, and also the ability to team up and do combo attacks with your team mates. This new addition rounds out combat.

The ending is the kind of ending I like, happy with all questions answered, and all problems solved. Everyone reunites and returns home safely, with the possibility of a sequel. The game designer has stated that he is interested in doing a sequel if Disney allows it, but he and his team have other projects they want to work on first. To my surprise I’m hoping for a sequel.

One final thought: possibly the most unexpected part of the game was when you ‘time traveled’ back to Steamboat Willy, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. All character designs were changed to match the animation style of that period and the game goes to black and white. This made me think of Walt Disney’s reported anti-Semitism. A friend of mine who also played the game pointed out to me that upon reaching that part of the game he was constantly looking for any sort of negative racial stereotyping that supposedly existed in cartoons of that period. Well, I didn’t see anything like that in the game.