Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix

Many videogame companies in both North America and Japan have a nasty habit of releasing “director’s cuts” of their major titles a few months after the releases of their original versions, such as the “Game of the Year” editions of the Borderlands titles or the “International” versions of main Final Fantasy titles, ironic considering that their own rereleases tend to remain in Japan. Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts II was among the company’s many titles to receive a “Final Mix,” which would remain in Japan until the release in North America late in 2014 of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX, which included Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, providing a mostly solid experience.

The sequel largely bequeaths its predecessor’s menu-based hack-and-slash gameplay, with the main new feature being reaction commands that dictate the player to press the triangle button to execute effects such as notching an enemy onto the end of Sora’s keyblade for greater damage. Another new helpful feature is the ability to assign items to shortcut commands, sparing players the annoyance in the first Kingdom Hearts of navigating the battle menus to use consumables. Even so, a “Wait” command where the action of battle paused while navigating the battle menu would have been welcome, and there are occasional annoying bosses, not to mention the new inability to switch instantly between targets in combat, but otherwise, the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix very much helps the game more than hurts.

Control is largely solid as well, with easy menus, shopping, and navigation, although it seems that whenever the player opens the main menus, there’s always a “New” indicator flashing at the player to indicate updated inventory or Jiminy Cricket’s compendium. Another improvement over the first game, though, is that battlefields tend to be flatter, often sparing players the annoyance of having to retrace their steps through a field or dungeon if they fall off a high ledge in the middle of combat and lose the progress they made. A minor issue, as well, is that “pausing” the game doesn’t stop the game clock, and the pause feature is unavailable during normal exploration, but cutscenes are thankfully skippable, and overall, interaction is very much a boon to the second main Kingdom Hearts title.

As with most Kingdom Hearts titles, though, the story is a low point, with a noticeable lack of Parental Bonus material for older gamers, a lack of humor, and so forth. The narrative, however, does make some daring moves such as a major retcon of the original game’s storyline, although comically-voice characters such as Donald Duck and Goofy feel very much out of place in a game devoid of comedy, and the members of the antagonistic Organization XIII are largely unmemorable and in some cases exchangeable. The story also has some censored elements, especially in Port Royal, the Pirates of the Caribbean world, although the localization is otherwise solid. Ultimately, the plot isn’t a major draw, but definitely has its share of redeeming aspects.

Yoko Shimomura does a nice job as usual with the soundtrack, with some memorable tracks including those in the Timeless River and Space Paranoids levels, although there are occasional recycled tracks from other titles, along with the vocal track “Sanctuary,” whose lyrics are less hackneyed than those of the first game’s “Simple and Clean.” The voice acting is solid as well, though again, Donald and Goofy with their comical voices feel somewhat out of place in a game lacking humor. Even so, a decent-sounding game.

The visuals are the Final Mix’s high point, improved with the HD port, with beautiful scenery and character models looking neither realistic nor cartoony. The models in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, though, are among the most lifelike in the current generation of games as they were in the last, and there are some gorgeous worlds such as the monochrome Timeless River and the flashy technic Space Paranoids. There is some bland and pixilated texturing when some of the scenery is close-up, but this is otherwise a minor blemish in a superb-looking game.

Finally, the main game will last players around thirty hours, although there are some occasional sidequests whose completion is necessary to view secret movies after the ending credits, and plentiful achievements to keep gamers lasted a while.

In conclusion, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix is for the most part a superb director’s cut, with plenty going for it such as its enjoyable hack-and-slash gameplay, great control, solid music and voice acting, gorgeous graphics, and plentiful lasting appeal. There are some occasional hiccups such as a few annoying bosses, the infantile plot at times, and some recycled musical tracks from other entries of the series, but otherwise, those that enjoyed other installments of the franchise will very likely enjoy the first and so far only main sequel.

The Good:
+Solid hack-and-slash gameplay with a few twists.
+Great control.
+Nice music and voice acting.
+Superb visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some annoying bosses.
-Kiddie plot.
-Some recycled music.

The Bottom Line:
A great Final Mix.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 25-35 Hours

Overall: 8.5/10

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