Kingdom Hearts II

I should talk a little about my latest single-player gaming. Admittedly a bit late to the party but I recently rented Kingdom Hearts II from Gamefly It's interesting in that I like the Kingdom Hearts line much better than any other Square title you'd care to name. I finished the first PS2 title, and I made it to the final few boss fights of the GBA game before losing interest. Everything you might have read about KHII is true - the prologue is ridiculously long - I played for three hours and forty-five minutes before I got to play the main character of the story (Sora). There's a whole bizarre storyline about some sort of strange computer simulation designed to keep Sora submerged in some alternate personality - to be honest I only about half-followed it.

I'm now at something like 32 or 33 hours of total play, and I'm closing in on the end, I'd guess it's going to track pretty close to 40 hours, plus any extra time spent finishing "Jiminy's Journal" for the good ending. Many of my readers read Penny-Arcade as well and they will be asking "But what about this?" and it's a fair question. I don't know yet. I would have originally told you that I wasn't even bothering with getting all of Jiminy's Journal. I do have the obsessive "gotta get all the stamps" personality that gets wrapped up in this sort of thing, but I'm used to Square demanding insane levels of obssession and devotion to finish a game. However I did notice that many of the worlds were in fact getting finished as I progressed. It's close enough that I might go ahead and make the final effort, we'll see.

It's sort of weird that I like Kingdom Hearts as I always get annoyed at Final Fantasy games and I'm pretty derogative of the Disney properties. So if I don't like Auron, Leon, and Yuffie, and I've never even seen The Lion King, or Aladdin, or The Little Mermaid you wouldn't think I'd like some strange mash-up of the two. But it turns out that I do. The younger focus of the Disney side reigns in the Square "let's have endless random encounters and some obscenely elaborate character leveling system", and the Square side puts a reasonably engaging RPG story on top of the endless Disney merchandising tie-ins.

The combat is pretty simplistic, it's really just mashing X a lot to progress though most fights, but the camera isn't quite as insane as the first Kingdom Hearts. KHII has some really neat parts - there's a flashback level to Steamboat Willie where the Disney character revert to their old appearances, the level is black and white and there's even some grain and film scratches simulated to really feel like you're playing in an early days cartoon.

The Tron level was entertaining in the first pass. (Most of the worlds appear to have two story arcs - you open them up and do the first stories and then revisit them to finish off the big bad boss. I've only done the first pass in Tron.) It is sobering to remember seeing Tron as a kid. Those graphics were amazing at the time but now they are doing a pretty faithful recreation in real time on a home game console and my jaded, sybaritic response is "that looks sort of low-res and dated". Ah progress.

Anyway, I'd recommend a rental, assuming you like RPG's at all and (and this is a biggie) you can see putting in four hours of play before getting to the "real" game. I think that time will be dramatically important to the story eventually, the clues are building. But it was about a week for me of playing it every couple of days and basically just saying "WTF is going on here?" I thought it was a tutorial, and certainly part of it was, but four hours is a bit much for that. If you're the sort of player who can only manage an hour every couple of weeks I think KHII will lose you before you ever cut through the intro to the interesting parts.