The few areas in which KH2 doesn't succeed, really do nothing to hamper the overall joy of returning to this magical kingdom, brought to life by Square-Enix. by Vaughn Smith

March 31, 2006 - North American gamers have been turning a deep envious shade of Peter Pan green in light of the pre-Christmas release of KH2 in Japan. Without a doubt this Square-Enix developed epic adventure is one of the most anticipated games of 2006. But now the wait is finally over. Fans returning to the kingdom have a lot to look forward to, while new recruits should definitely play through the first KH and KH: Chain of Memories on GBA (if possible) before they embark. If you're going to enjoy an "epic", you have to do it right and that means playing the story from the beginning. KH2 will hold your hand and give you plenty of backstory to catch you up to speed if you ignore my pleas of playing KH first, but nothing beats going into a sequel with some emotional investment.

Unlike a FPS game review where upon I can reveal the story - which is generally nothing more than filler to give you an excuse to pull the trigger - things get decidely trickier when writing a review for such a beloved title like KH2. Dare I reveal anything remotely related to the plot and spoil any nuance of the overall experience. What I can tell you is that the Kingdom Hearts series revolves around a young boy named Sora, who joins with Donald and Goofy of Disney fame. Together they move from one enchanted magical land eradicating an evil entity called the Heartless which have infested the various lands. Using Sora's keyblade as both a weapon and a key to gain access to these areas, Goofy, Donald and Sora have many adventures with Disney and Final Fantasy characters as they travel everywhere from The Little Mermaid's Under the Sea to Jack Skellington's Nightmare Before Christmas to Capt. Jack Sparrow's Port Royal with many ports of call inbetween.

In keeping with the timeline and continuity of the series, players eager to return to the magic kingdom in KH2 will find themselves in Twilight Town after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The game begins with a lengthy prologue that will definitely be the first of many surprises the Square-Enix team has in store. As mentioned it's impossible to delve into the story - at the beginning - without spoiling any of the surprises that await gamers eager to get their hands on the game. Once players get their hands on Sora, Goofy and Donald who have been asleep for a year, slowly regaining their memories removed during their last adventure, the adventure will begin anew and players will once again embark on a whirlwind epic journey through enchanted worlds of Square and Disney.

Drawing from the wealth of characters and worlds from Disney's 80 year history, a big part of the games charm comes from the numerous cameos of world famous characters players interact with during their adventures. Kingdom Hearts II continues that tradition with an all-new star-studded lineup of beloved Disney and Final Fantasy personalities that are sure to captivate your imagination. Although we don't want to give everything away, we can tell you that the rumors are true: gamers will be visiting the world of Tron for a very cool light cycle race as well as visiting a gold toothed pirate by the name of Captain Jack… In total the game features 12 Disney-based worlds, not including the Square created towns such as Twilight Town, Hollow Bastion etc. Players can expect to visit the following wonderful worlds during the game: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Disney Castle, Hercules, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Mulan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Steamboat Willie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Space Paranoids (Tron) and The 100 Acre Wood. One world of particular interest to KH fans is the Disney Castle, which is now fully explorable. Recently KH series producer Tetsuya Nomura went on record to say that designing the entire Castle level was an absolutely exhausting undertaking.

Not to be outdone, a variety of characters big, small, famous and infamous from the Final Fantasy universe will appear in a myriad of roles ranging from townsfolk to bosses and everything in-between. In the past some FF purists have balked at the 'mixing' of these two distinct worlds and haven't been pleased with the way in which certain characters from the popular RPG series have been portrayed. Others who are just as passionate love the FF fan service Square Enix has provided within the confines of KH games and look forward to any appearance of their favorites. We can tell you that FF fans who dig the KH vibe won't go away disappointed. Keep your eyes peeled for 17 characters from the FF universe including Yuffie, Cloud, Rikku, Paine, Auron, Yuna, Squall, Selphie and big bad Sephiroth to name just a few.

As in previous games, upon visiting some of the worlds Sora and his companions will find themselves physically altered to suit their new environment. For example, while adventuring in the Kingdom Under the Sea with Ariel the little mermaid, Sora will become a merman. While roaming the jungle with the Lion King, Sora will take on the appearance of a lion cub. During the Steamboat Willie stage (based on Mickey Mouse's first appearance from 1928) the entire level will be in black and white and Sora's and company character models will take on a more simplified look to complement the era. As you might guess you'll have different powers at their disposal during these segments which will definitely keep you on your toes!

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System: PS2
Dev: Square-Enix
Pub: Square-Enix
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn