ATB’s Best Games Ever: (11) Kingdom Hearts II

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If you have a dream, don’t wait. Act. One of life’s little rules. Got it memorized?

This is the list of At the Buzzer’s top 25 games of all-time, as voted on by the main ATB cast members and other friends of the show. For more information on how this whole thing works or for the other games on the list, check out the Related Links at the bottom of this post.

11) Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)

Chris: Considering how much love the entire panel has for Kingdom Hearts, I’m actually surprised that KH was out of the top 25, and that KH II ended up outside the top 10. My first thought was that the vote split was responsible, but even if we pooled the two together, it still would only have been No. 6. I guess it’s just a weird anomaly.

kh2boxWhen I put together my list, I had the original game in my top 25, but not Kingdom Hearts II. At the time, I thought it was a pretty clear-cut choice which of the two I preferred, but after thinking back on KH II to put together this post…I’m not so sure.

There’s a lot that KH II does really well. The combat is vastly improved over the original, as fighting is both more fluid and nuanced. You can build Sora in a variety of different ways (long, extended combos? Or shorter, more punishing hits?), both because of his abilities and the different drives that he can activate. The characters are terrific and the supporting cast is one of the strongest in any game ever made. The story, while a bit jarring if you skipped Chain of Memories, flows extremely well and has quite a few emotionally draining moments (like that moment where the slightest bit of doubt creeps in your head that Goofy might be dead). The soundtrack is amazing, particularly the boss themes, as Yoko Shimomura bombards you with frantic piano arpeggios and clever nods to other tracks in the series. Auron’s a freaking badass. And as usual, the hybrid of Disney, Final Fantasy and original work blends together perfectly, despite how strange the idea seems on the surface. If nothing else, KH II makes you care, which is a statement that I’m not sure applies to very many titles out there.

Unfortunately, there’s just a handful of minor issues that set the sequel back for me, even though I think both titles are phenomenal games. For example, the Disney worlds felt tacked on, almost as though you were trying to get them out of the way to get back to the main story. This seems to happen despite the fact that a lot of the Disney areas are done well, including some solid new additions like the Lion King and Mulan, and it’s probably a testament to how great the overall plot is that you’re constantly wanting more. Also, the reaction system (aka “fun with the triangle button”) is horrendously overdone — quick-time events were the new hotness around this time, and their flaws shine through something fierce here. Dodging a million lasers or GETTING UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK is pretty cool the first time you do it, but less so the sixth time in the same fight (and god forbid you die and have to start over). And almost all of the exploration from the original game is gone. No trinity marks or Dalmatians this time, kids.

Maybe this feels like nitpicking to fans who enjoy the sequel more than the original, but it’s this minute separation that leads me to favor the first game — and Shaun and I have had this difference in opinion for years now. I still have no problem with KH II placing this high on our list, because even though my mind is a little wary, my heart really enjoyed playing it. And isn’t heart the most important of all?

Shaun: Believe it or not, I’m not a huge fan of JRPGs. With the exception of some of the Final Fantasy games (namely VI, IX, and XII, the three that are JRPGs but not really), I typically find them to be thematically overbearing and featuring caricatured protagonists and derivative plots. So that’s why my absolute adoration and borderline obsessiveness with the Kindgom Hearts series is so peculiar to me.

The original Kingdom Hearts was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but Kingdom Hearts II captivated me in a way I didn’t think would be possible for the franchise. From the incredible, tragic opening (summer vacation is over, *sob*), to the epic finale that hit on all emotional cylinders (*sob again*), KH II was a poignant roller coaster of epic video game storytelling and characterization. The worlds were rich and diverse, and each one seemed to bring something new to the table. To the people saying that KH has grown past Disney, you clearly don’t know anything about the series — KH is at its best when it’s taking the blend of Disney and Square seriously, not when it’s absentmindedly cashing in, and certainly not when it’s trying to phase the Disney influence out. KH II is a great example of how great this blend can work when done right, specifically the Tron, Steamboat Willie, and Mulan worlds…and specifically not The Little Mermaid.

Perhaps the game’s greatest strength is its characters; nearly every individual in the game, from the tortured, completely badass Riku, to the surprisingly sympathetic Organization members (they just want validation!) are thoughtfully written and complex. Even Sora, the absurdly naive, incorruptible series star, struggles with some of his decisions, and his interaction with Roxas sends a single tear of sadness down my cheek to this day.

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the much improved gameplay that focused on speed and fluidity, making it one of the most enjoyable action RPG systems ever developed. KH II has made its mark as one of the most complete RPGs ever, and it’s no wonder why the prolonged wait for a true third entry is so frustrating.

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MORE FROM AT THE BUZZER’S TOP 25 LIST

(12) Persona 4 Golden

(13) Super Mario Bros. 3

(14) Halo

(15) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

(16) Super Smash Bros. Melee

(17) Super Mario Galaxy 2

(18) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

(19) Final Fantasy IX

(20) Star Fox 64

(21) The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

(22) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

(23) Fallout 3

(24) StarCraft

(25) Bioshock

Best Games Ever: #50-26

Best Games Ever: #75-51

Best Games Ever: #100-76

Honorable Mentions

Introduction

7 thoughts on “ATB’s Best Games Ever: (11) Kingdom Hearts II

  1. Excellent post, with a balanced review of an awesome game (of course, I’m biased). I was kinda hoping to see it in the top 10, too, but considering what WAS in your top 10, I’d say spot 11 is fair for KHII. Any of you play KH:3DS yet?

      1. Thanks for your response; I take issue with your calling of Kingdom Hearts 3DS a ‘spinoff’ because Nomura himself stated that it is as important to the plot of a numbered game, but whatever, I’m tired of arguing with people about that. But at least one of you played it.

        1. Kingdom Hearts 3DS was a solid, not quite spectaulcar, game, and I enjoyed my time with it. But while Nomura said it’s critical to the plot of the thee, the fact of the matter is that it’s not 3, and at this point, these ancillary titles that flesh out the narrative, while appreciated, are getting harder to swallow because of the wait time between them. At the end of the day, I’m excited to truly jump back into the epic narrative, regardless of what system it ends up being released on.

          1. Does it truly matter what the game is called? If they had called KH 3DS KH 3, it would still be the same content because it is a vital part of the plot. If you’re thinking that the Keyblade Wars are going to be in KH 3, well, okay, I get the impatience. But it’s not like these games don’t have just as much value as KH 3 will have, and there is where I take issue.

            You’re welcome to your opinion and I to mine. I just wish people would stop calling these ancillary games ‘spin-offs’ because it’s misleading and inaccurate.

          2. You’re right that spin-offs is a misleading and incorrect term. Spin-off implies a separate universe that’s only loosely linked by a familiar element, like a handful of characters or a specific location (for example, Dr. Frasier Crane was on Cheers before Frasier, but the two shows have virtually nothing else in common). So people who refer to the other KH games as spin-offs are mistaken.

            However, I believe that you are mistaken when you say that if KH 3DS was called KH 3, it would be the same thing. The ancillary games like Birth By Sleep, Dream Drop Distance and Chain of Memories have been extremely fleshed-out titles worthy of being their own entry in the series. But they are not Kingdom Hearts 3, nor will they ever be. That game, if it ever sees the light of day, will be the continuation of the main story presented in the other two primary titles, a linear progression involving Riku, Sora, Kairi and all the other important characters of the series.

            While I appreciate the work that these side games have done in developing the overall narrative of Kingdom Hearts and filling in some of the blanks along the way, I’m no longer interested in what happens between A and B. I want to know what happens in C. The games may have the same “value” as AAA-worthy, complete titles, but they do not have the same value to me as a fan of the series.

          3. While I respect your opinion, I choose to disagree. Because KH:3DS is vital to understanding Xehanort’s plot, I feel that this game is ‘C.’ While it doesn’t cover the Keyblade Wars, I feel that it is the next part of the story. Thankyou for your lengthy replies!

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