We sat down with four playable demos of Kingdom Hearts 2 at TGS 2005.
TGS 2005: We got the opportunity to check out four demo levels in Kingdom Hearts 2. Sora, the youthful protagonist from the original game, makes his way back to the sequel, along with compatriots Donald and Goofy. The levels, which are themed after classic Disney movies, are modeled after some of the same movies as the first game, plus some entirely new ones. From the demo's accompanying trailer, we picked out references to "Hercules," "Aladdin," and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," all of which played some part in the first Kingdom Hearts, as well as "Beauty and the Beast" and "Mulan," which are making their first entry into the franchise. However, despite some movie repetition, the levels will still be unique. What we saw of Aladdin, for example, took place in an entirely different portion of the movie from what we saw in the first game.
Given the state of the current demo, it's clear that not much has changed in the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts. There are slight differences, but none of the alterations have a severe impact on the game mechanics. This will be a welcome relief to fans of the franchise, who might have been concerned that Square was going to take a different twist with the series. Instead, you're on the same kind of explorative quest, killing the enemies known as the Heartless through new Disney levels. Of the four demos we saw, two were boss fights; the Mulan level shows combat against a flying Chinese dragon, and the Beauty and the Beast level showcases a fight against a candelabra-looking creature that eventually morphs into an evil beast. Both fights follow typical formula: Find the weak point at each stage of the enemies' attacks and avoid counterattacks, as well as the environmental traps around them.
We discovered some interesting aspects of the game in the two other demos, which featured more explorative aspects of gameplay. The first is a romp through the castle, with none other than Queen Minnie in your party. Minnie isn't exactly the most efficient fighter, so in this level, Sora, who is the only other person in the party, must spend as much time protecting her as he does venturing off and fighting enemies. One room in this level features swarming, floating fish creatures, which makes this particular task quite challenging.
The other environment we got to explore was the new portion of Aladdin. While in the first game the Aladdin level took place on the streets of Agrabah, this game's level is in the Cave of Wonders. The demo begins with the Disney antihero, Pete, who seems to play the role of Jafar in this scene, escaping into the mouth of the Cave of Wonders. You must follow him with some combination of Donald, Goofy, and Aladdin in your party. As in the original game, at any point you can switch out one character for another, letting you make different strategic choices depending on what enemy you're fighting. Donald is still mostly a magic user, and Goofy is a great tank; but it looks as though they can be tweaked more specifically, if you have an exact idea of how you want them to operate.
In the Cave of Wonders, you pass through different rooms, some of which strictly involve combat and unlocking the many treasure chests, others which have some puzzle elements to them. In the "Stone Pillar Room," for example, you must guide Aladdin's monkey, Abu, who has swiped a crystal nearly twice his size, to the place where he can deposit the crystal and stop the trap. You do this by pressing the triangle button when it appears on the screen, which will let you lift him over the portions of the moving floor that are taller than he is. This method of pressing the triangle properly is also a part of the fighting dynamic. You can do special combos if you quickly execute the triangle button when prompted on screen. A further section in the Cave of Wonders shows a multitiered fight. You must beat all the enemies on a platform so that it disappears and drops you to the platform below it, where you will be tasked to fight more difficult enemies. Complete all of this within the given time limit and you drop to the bottom of the cave where the treasure is, and where you'll be able to reconnect with the sinister Pete.
Although much of the gameplay remains the same, the levels are not only new, but they introduce new kinds of gameplay mechanics as well. You'll notice that many of the enemies, while also new to the game, look so familiar to old ones that you might not be able to distinguish between them. The game's humor is also thankfully quite intact, and some characters, such as the monkey, Abu, provide constant comic relief throughout. Essentially, it looks like the Kingdom Hearts franchise is prospering with Kingdom Hearts 2, which is capitalizing on the success of the first game while still contributing new innovations to the series.