"There are many worlds, but they share the same sky…One sky, one destiny."[p]What started as a random encounter between a Square Soft and Disney executive on an elevator has grown into one of the most epic collaborations since Yalta. The fruit of their union is Kingdom Hearts. In this action/RPG, the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy cross-over, and familiar characters such as Cloud Strife and Donald Duck fight side-by-side with a host of original characters.[p]Sora, Donald and Goofy return to continue the search for Riku and King Mickey. But things have become more complicated than they expected. The soul devouring Heartless are still rampant in many worlds and Sora must use the keyblade to close the dark portals that let them in. As old adversaries return, new ones emerge with more mysterious intentions: A group named Organization XIII seeks to draw Sora into their fold by manipulating the strange creatures called Nobodies. Stranger still is that the members of this group seem to know Sora, but by a different name.[p]If I said any more than that I’d be spoiling one of this games many plot twists. Expect the story to get intriguing right off the bat and continue to surprise you throughout. If you haven’t played the previous two games you might be confused at first but you’ll still be able to enjoy the game.[p]With new enemies, Sora will need new powers to keep the darkness at bay, and there are many in this game. Your primary method of attacking is the keyblade, which can be equipped with various key chains that give it new forms and abilities. Sora can also unlock many new moves as the game continues. I like that none of the weapons are simply more or less powerful, they are just better suited for different play styles.[p]Drives are probably the coolest and most powerful ability Sora has. After charging up the drive gauge by collecting spheres, Sora can absorb one or both of his companions to increase his own powers, giving the player about a minute of rampaging time. Different forms unlock special powers, including dual keyblade fighting and hyper magic abilities. Using the drives often will level them up, allowing you to eventually equip drive abilities in your regular form.[p]Magic is more useful this time around as your MP gauge will automatically recharge whenever you run out. You can set up to four spells with shortcut commands making them easily accessible. This is helpful since using magic through the menu is difficult and takes too long to be useful. Items (which are just as difficult to use through the menu) can also be assigned to shortcut commands, but this takes space away from your magical repertoire. Summon spells call a character to fight with you for a short time. If you don’t trust the AI, you can take direct control of their attacks.[p]Reaction commands are another new addition that adds style to ordinary combat and can make boss battles seem like choreographed movie scenes. A green triangle appears over enemies when a reaction command is available. If the player hits the button in time, Sora will swing by their tail, deflect a shot at them or something else appropriate to the situation. In boss battles, these activate elaborate cut-scenes and require you hit the triangle button at several precise moments. If you learn how to trigger them, reaction commands can give you an edge over stubborn enemies.[p]The hallmark of Kingdom Hearts is the ability to team up with your favorite Disney characters, but this time Final Fantasy characters get a spot on your team too. Allies can do a lot more than randomly attack enemies next to you; by activating limit mode, you and one or two of your allies pool your power for a limited time to unleash new attacks culminating in a finishing move that is as devastating as it is awesome to watch.[p]At this point, you’re probably thinking that this is way too much to handle in one game; that there is no way you can utilize all of these abilities in a fight. Well, you don’t have to. The abilities Sora can equip are designed to emphasize the style of fighting you like best. So, if you want to charge up drives quickly or concentrate on limits and magic, you can do so and just ignore everything else. While the controls are simple enough that an experienced gamer will be able to make use of everything, it’s possible to go through the entire game with just simple attacks.[p]The biggest improvement in battle from the first game is the AI. No longer are your allies kamikazes. They can fight competently and even saved my butt on more than one occasion. You can also customize their fighting style in case you want more support or just some more space. The better designed camera system also helps.[p]The biggest flaw carried over from the first game is the difficulty. If you’re playing on the normal or easy mode, it’ll be evident that this game was meant to be child friendly. And while hard mode does provide some brutal boss battles, you can still button mash through most of the smaller foes. After clearing most of the game, however, you’ll have access to some optional super-tough bosses.[p]I was actually disappointed when I first heard that gummy ships were back in this game. Thankfully, the system has been improved in every aspect and I actually play it when the game doesn’t force me to. To make new worlds available you have to hop inside a gummy ship and clear out the hostile heartless that bar the way through space. You can design your own custom space vessel using the gummy editor or just use one of the many pre-made designs. Depending on how much you like it, there are several missions you can try to accomplish along each space path. Personally, I found the space battles to be fast, fun and a welcome change of pace after hours of beating up heartless.[p]Graphics are a tough thing to rate for a game like this. Each world has its own artistic style taken from its movie of origin. As such, each world has completely different environments, enemies and even character designs. Most of the time, all of these things come together beautifully even in the most retro worlds. I also enjoyed the many nuances such as custom menu screens for each world and different visual effects for each sword. As the characters have grown, so too has their style which is a touch edgier this time. Both the length and quality of the intro scene is phenomenal as it recaps events from both previous games, but in high quality CGI.[p]Like the graphics, the music changes style according to the worlds you visit. You might recognize several of the musical themes from Disney movies with just a subtle influence of Final Fantasy thrown in. One thing I like is how the music smoothly transitions from calm to tense when enemies approach. J-pop star Utada Hikaru has returned to do the intro music for the game and I’m glad to say it’s even better than her work last time.[p]If you dismissed this game after one look, thinking that a game featuring Donald Duck and Goofy is just "lame," you’re only depriving yourself of an overall great experience. This is a rare sort of game that can appeal to almost any type of gamer from ages 12 to 120. Unless you only play sports games, or you’re looking for the ultimate challenge in gaming, you need to give this game a try. Who knows, maybe you can even let your kids too.
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