Release Date: TBA
One of the titles I anticipated most before this year's E3 was Kingdom Hearts II, which picks up the story a year after Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The Heartless are back once again, but so are Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Some of the supporting characters from the original game have returned, as well as a few new friends.
For me, Kingdom Hearts was always about two things: the gameplay, and the joy of seeing the Square-Enix characters working with the Disney characters. As far as gameplay goes, a lot of new elements have been added to the original's basic engine for the sequel. I didn't see any signs of the first game's trinity system, but the game demos also emphasized combat much more than exploration.
I was really impressed by the refinements in the combat system, as it appears that Square-Enix added something reminiscent of God of War. In certain situations you will tap the triangle button in order to make Sora take an action that is specific to that environment. Often what you do with the triangle button is a bit like a mini-game; other times it may be something as simple as letting Sora execute a throwing attack on the enemy. There is also a speed-up skill you can activate now to immensely speed up the pace at which you defeat enemies.
As far as characters go, I quickly noticed that Auron – my favorite from FFX – is now one of the "guest" characters who will fight with you. This delighted me to no end, and I'm sure most FFX fans will feel the same. One of the new Disney additions to the cast is Mulan, which adds a level that recaps one of the most spectacular parts of the original film. I also got to experience a new area called Twilight Town, where the story begins. This area is similar to the first game's Traverse Town, but instead of perpetual starlight it's shrouded in perpetual evening twilight.
The graphics in Kingdom Hearts II look about the same as the original's, although I noticed the backgrounds were somewhat more detailed. The characters have also gotten some nice little refinements, but you'll have to look closely to notice them. Square's representative at the demo swore that Buena Vista and Square-Enix had been able to sign almost all of the original voice actors from the last game, as well as talent to represent the new characters. Voice work is very important to a character-driven game like Kingdom Hearts II, so high-quality voice talent will go a long way toward bringing the game's world to life.
Tetsuya Nomura reassumes his role as director and character designer, providing all of the new character models and overall aesthetic for the game. Yuichi Kanemori reprises his role from the original game as "battle director," while veteran Final Fantasy staffer Kazushiga Nojima will reprise his role as scenario director. These three men represent an immense concentration of Square-Enix's best talents into a single title.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts II looks like it will be a blockbuster hit after the game is released. With all of its new surprises and additions, as well as the return of familiar elements from the original, there's little doubt in my mind that it will grab RPG fans as well as the original game did.
Hank Wang also contributed to this preview.
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