I have updated this review - and it ain't good...
It's actually been a long time since i stopped playing it, but i was going through my reviews and noticed that this one wasn't finalized. I quit KHII because of the frustrating and long fights with Organization XIII. Near the end, there are a series of fights that I just couldn't sit through. They are too long, and very difficult - for no reason whatsoever. The long-reach problem continued to exist, and even got worse. I also gave up trying to beat Sephiroth, for similar difficulty reasons. I don't mind difficulty in fighting bosses - but that should be reserved for bosses, and there should be a smart way to beat them. In KHII, your smart way is just to hash it out and barely survive a drawn out war of attrition. The "bosses" come one after the other at a point, with similarly difficult monster fights inbetween. I just didn't have the fortitude or patience to sit there for hours fighting the same long-lifed enemies over and over again. I am downgrading my score, because for me this game is not fun - at least near the end. It just ticked me off rather than entertaining me. So there it is. Sorry to the people who agreed with my earlier views - but I told you it was first impressions anyway.
END of Update.
I have to admit I'm not finished with the game, so I cannot comment on how it wraps up. But I must say that so far the game has lived up to my expectations. I do sense a little slowdown in the battles, and my input is a little sluggish (for example the game relies heavily on triangle button timed inputs - but I have tried two different PS2's and four different controller, and nothing has cured a delay in the game recognizing my button press), but this doesn't stop the game from being entertaining or slow it down a bit. I have found so much to do and so many places to go that the game and plot never gets boring.
Like I said - I'm at 40+ hours of play, and am still scratching my head as where they are going with the plot. It helps to have professional writers on your game development team. I'm hoping that some holes I see will get neatly wrapped up by games end. Needless to say, the deep story and constant events (that you can choose whether or not to participate in) keep this game alive 24-7. It's very hard to stop playing because it always says to you "I wonder what's going on over here...". I see some sleepness nights in the near future. What's also great is that I don't feel that the game is even remotely over. If it is over within 20 more hours I will be very surprised.
The battle system, while a little less responsive than Kingdom Hearts 1's, is still one of the best aspects of the game, if not THE most interesting. There is no game that I can think of that has a more exciting and satisfying battle mode than Kingdom Hearts. If they put this into a fighting game I would lose my freaking mind. Just to throw this out there - I think Legend of Dragoon and Legend of Legaia 1 are tied for second in fighting modes for RPG's. Tales of Phantasia scraping at a close third... But I digress.
Controls / features have expanded and the D-Pad is used to access a slow, clunky, tripple tiered menu that doesn't always act right. I have been killed many times trying to cure myself with that slow system. there is an option to bind some functions to the L1 button, but in the heat of furious battle it's just as difficult to get to that as it is to get to the D-Pad menu. It would have been far better, considering the pace of the battles, to let us pause and input - and you will agree when it happens to you.
The graphics in the game are standard fare, nothing outstandingly special about that. I haven't seen Peter Pan yet - that's one thing that irritated me in the first game, the cross-eyed Peter Pan. We can do better than that. another minor irritation is that all of the Disney characters smile all the darn time. Even when Mickey was supposedly enraged because something happened to Goofy, his eyes showed anger, but he was still smiling. Minnie Mouse looks absolutely stupid, she's smiling AND cross-eyed. Hope to see some of these character models fixed in KH3.
Cameos from other Square games are back - but once again emphasis is put on FFVIII characters. Cloud and Sephiroth were there too, but of course they tried to downplay two of the most recognizeable FF characters because the artist for KH is the same one for FFVIII.... ho, boy. I was hoping to see more of the other characters, which there are some more - just not the ones I WANT to see - like Vincent, or Barret. How about some FF3 characters? How about Crono, Robo, or some of the Chrono Trigger characters? Don't give us that lame excuse that the artist didn't do those games - so freakin' what - your an artist right??? DO IT! Sheesh - they have the guy who did Final Fantasy tactics doing FFXII - I'm sure they can have the KH artist do characters he didn't create...
Aside from that, KH2 is a solid entry in the market, and a must buy for those who enjoy this genre of games. Go get it - it's a very good, and polished experience. Oh yes - there is a review here that says it's too easy - well, that's why I am playing on the hardest mode. If you really want to be challenged, choose the hardest mode and at the right point choose to be a Mystic instead of a Warrior or Defender. That's almost like choosing nightmare mode (but over time you will build up to be quite powerful).
After about 60 hours of play, I wanted to update and add some observances:
I have fought about 4 characters from Organization XIII - and I have noticed that ALL OF THEM have long range weapons (so far). I found it extremely difficult to beat them (except for Axel, he was a woos...). The false difficulty, cheapness of these characters makes me reconsider my score for this game. Unless I missed something, Sora seems severely underskilled, especially in comparison to the Sora from the first game. I'm going by strict memory here - but didn't Sora 1 have the ability to throw and / attack from long range? It is very frustrating and not very entertaining to keep fighting essentially the same kind of fight over and over again. At this point I'm really considering taking a full point from gameplay, because like I said it feels not challenging but cheap.
The Org XIII characters not only have ranged weapons, they hit too dang hard AND fast. One of the characters has a machine gun combo that drains ALL of my lifebar. He has several attacks, but only one of them can be countered (triangle button). The damage returned from the counter is barely a scratch on him, but takes a wallop of life from Sora. I don't know if I missed something (like some ability that would help) but once again that is just cheap - and it feels cheap. Another irritation is the Org XIII characters TIMING; If I have 1/4 life left and try to heal, I get killed before I can heal, EVERY TIME. I have been killed more in this game than any other game I ever played, BTW, and most of the time it has been in the midst of getting to cura or a potion. It's like the Org XIII characters are programmed to hit you with an amazing killer attack if at any time your life goes below 1/3 and are trying to heal. Very bothersome.
When I wrote the first part of this review, I was at about 40 hours, now I am much further and it's beginning to feel like the game is wrapping up. I am writing without looking at any guides or faqs, so if people already know how the game ends I'm sorry but that's not my angle. I must say that where I am (entering the Castle of Memories) feels like a rush to the end - but according to what I've played so far there should be a complete mirror world... we shall see how this all comes out. If it ends with this castle - well I will leave less than impressed. If it flips over to a new world, as it should I will be blown away! If I ever get past this stupid gun totin' Org XIII guy I guess i'll find out soon enough.
Needs Some Smartness:
The clunky controls are bad and slow enough, but what really needs help? The A.I. of the shorcut controls. I'm in a fight, and I notice there is a response command I can do to an enemy. I get in the position to do it - but instead I get Donald Duck doing his stupid Cyclone attack! It's because of the Auto Limit option, and the game mechanics being too stupid to realize that I wanted to special attack the monster, not get Donald's limit going. Somebody should have better prioritized these controls, because they knew they were tying them all to the same button. In a critical fight with Beast in the party, against an Org XIII fighter, Beast's "Twin Howl" would pop up at the most inopportune moment - right when I am trying to respond to a signal to hit the triangle button so that I could get an attack in on this guy. Moments like that take away from the enjoyment of the game, making it feel frusrtating - not challenging. Goofy and Donald need some smartness too, because even though they have long range attacks, I have been in battles where they just stand there and watch me get creamed. I have tried them in all battle modes, and nothing seemed to make a change in that respect. Certainly, there has been some cheap programming to make the game "challenging", but the result was "infuriating" because it feels broken.
Finally, what's up with all of the sorry weapons? I've been holding on to the Pumpkin Repreive (or whatever it's called) because all of the other weapons I have, which are about 8, suck. Mostly they suck because they are weak - too weak to be worth the extras they supposedly add. Why would i give up 2-3 points of strength so that my magic will go up 1 point? This weapon system is badly designed, and I get thouroghly peeved after fighting and dying and upgrading so I can fight some more, getting only a lame-o weapon that I can't even use against the next level of monster. Sheesh, come on!
Well, if I am able, I will add some more after I finish. I hope I find things that can redeem this game, because the more I play the more it seems to be slipping downward.