The Kingdom Hearts games touched the lives of many gamers around the world and became an immensely popular franchise. To date the series has collectively sold more than 25 million units across all platforms that have included a game in the franchise. The recurring themes of friendship and self-discovery are what made the alliance between Disney and Square Enix into a successful collaboration.
Join me as I open the door to each game in the Kingdom Hearts series and explore why many gamers have so much for love them. This is my definitive retrospective of the Kingdom Hearts series…
The holidays of 2005 brought a gift that many RPG fans had wanted nearly three years. The hype surrounding the numbered sequel to the first Kingdom Hearts game was staggeringly high and made waves among everyone that owned a PlayStation 2, me included. After tolerating the release of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, everyone was ready for the next game in the series. I was in my later years of high school at this time and everyone I knew was talking about their excitement for Kingdom Hearts 2.
Development for Kingdom Hearts 2 started back in 2003, shortly after the release of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix in Japan. During this time, a lot of changes were made to the original game’s formula based off feedback given to Square Enix. One of the biggest challenges for the development team was getting Disney’s approval to feature Mickey Mouse in a more prominent role.
The first game only had a small cameo for Mickey towards the end, but Square Enix wanted to do more with the character. Changes to the battle system and level design were included to make Kingdom Hearts 2 play better and tell a grander story.
Once again, a lot of the hype surrounding the game came from the marketing material. Commercials advertising the game took a similar approach from before with a new song from Utada Hikaru and tantalizing visuals.
I won’t ever forget the feeling of watching the first commercials to appear on television and hearing the new theme song “Sanctuary”. Although like last time what I saw was completely out of context, I was drawn to everything on screen because of that song. It wasn’t upbeat like “Simple & Clean”, but it was just as good.
This would be the first game in the series I would actively go to the store and purchase on release day. Booting the game on my PlayStation 2 gave me goose bumps as I heard those unforgettable notes from the main menu. The opening cinematic once again featured Utada Hikaru’s song and left me in awe as I gazed at the gorgeous visuals, which would become a staple for the series. Like so many others, I had waited a long time for this.
But then something intriguing happened. For the first hours of the game you don’t play as series’ protagonist Sora, but instead as the character Roxas. While this didn’t damper the experience for me at all, it did however catch everyone off guard. Even if you knew the story from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, everyone expected to control only Sora. Without spoiling anything, there is an explanation as to why this happens and eventually you regain control of Sora. This was met with a mixed response from fans and has since suffered a bit of revisionist history.
The core gameplay of Kingdom Hearts 2 was very similar to the first title of the series. Everything was reworked and tuned to perfection. I felt more powerful this time exploring the game’s many different worlds. I wasn’t constricted in my movements because of the game’s controls.
Important actions were mapped to the Triangle button as Reaction Commands, rather than requiring me to scroll through a menu to interact with everything. This gave the game a better flow while exploring and fighting enemies in battle.
Story wise, Kingdom Hearts 2 has arguably the largest plot of the series. Many events that occur have since become key plot threads for the stories of other Kingdom Hearts games. There were tons of new worlds to explore and a larger cast of Disney and Final Fantasy characters included than in previous games.
More importantly however, this was the first game in the series to feature worlds outside of Disney animated films. Arriving in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron worlds got me excited to see how events would play out, especially with Pirates of the Caribbean being such an interesting Disney film to explore.
But where Kingdom Hearts 2 truly outshined its predecessor was with its key emotional moments of the story. This time there was a greater weight to the events that unfolded for all of the main characters. Themes of friendship and love were explored in deeper ways. The concept of death, which was abstractly alluded to in the first game, was explored in different ways and tugged at the heartstrings of players. Seeing a character we despised turn to good and willingly sacrifice himself caused everyone to stop and feel something.
The apex of this comes from an event that happens towards the middle section of the story. At one point, a character is injured and we’re made to believe they are gone. You then team up with the Final Fantasy characters as your allies in a series of concurrent battles.
Despite returning to lightheartedness at the end, it was at this moment that convinced me (and many others) that something drastic could happen. Not only did it offer the most impactful gameplay section of the entire series to date, but made players become connected with what was happening.
Kingdom Hearts 2 was a massively important game to everyone who loved role-playing games in 2005. The game was eventually rereleased on PlayStation 2 in Japan as Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix and would later on PlayStation 3 as part of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. The rereleases would include new content and feature a teaser for what would eventually become Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
Like many others, I can reminisce back to key points of my life that relate back to my time with Kingdom Hearts 2. The experience it gave became that impactful to me. However, what came next was a seemingly endless cycle that strayed far away from the next numbered entry of the series for years.
Do you have fond memories playing Kingdom Hearts 2 on your PlayStation 2? Had a favorite moment from the game you want to share with everyone? Leave us a comment below and let your voice be heard!!!