Friday, July 16, 2010

Top 50 Games - 12. Kingdom Hearts II

Wow. Kingdom Hearts II is my second favorite RPG ever. I'm sure that reflects really badly on my tastes, but you know what? I'm not ashamed of my love for this game and if you think I should be, well, haters gonna hate. Yes, I know the types of people who would put a Kingdom Hearts game so close to their top ten: the weeaboos, the cosplayers, the girls with the Naruto headbands and Full Metal Alchemist pillowcases. I understand that my opinion would associate me with these unwanted convention-lurkers, but I'm willing to live with that. The first Kingdom Hearts was a lively Square-developed romp through nostalgic Disney worlds. It was a jack of all trades- master of none, synthesising solid RPG, hack-n-slash, and platformer elements into a surprisingly cohesive whole. I liked it a lot, as one can glean from its placement on my list. But Kingdom Hearts II did something more for me. It wasn't the appeal of returning to my 90's childhood through classic Disney locations and characters or seeing Cloud and Sephiroth again, this time with a shiny new PS2 makeover. No, it's the original content in KHII that really gets to me. The first 6 hours in Twilight Town and just beyond are so surreal, so compelling, so mysterious and magical and heart-wrenching that the rest of the game couldn't possibly live up to its prologue (although the last 6 hours came pretty damn close), but that's okay because we humans are equipped with a wonderful little novelty called long-term memory. Don't get me wrong, the main portions of Kingdom Hearts II are highly enjoyable hack-n-slashing affairs. The graphics are some of the best ever seen on the Playstation 2, with silky animations, vibrant special effects, and heartwarming character designs. The game controls better than the original Kingdom Hearts (full analogue camera manipulation!), but some changes to the formula were a bit controversial. Deeper RPG systems were stripped down and streamlined in favor of God of War-style flowing combos and QTEs. Normally I would be opposed to this, and in some cases, the original Kingdom Hearts had better ideas; for example, elemental magic has no use whatsoever in KHII, where it was positively vital to defeating some enemies in the original. Nevertheless, combat is too mindlessly fun in the sequel, without the frustration present in the first game, for me to deeply care. Barreling through literally a thousand enemy troops with your keyblade is an almost comically awesome thrill only a newfound focus on action could provide for. The gameplay and graphics make for a joyous rollercoaster ride, but the music transforms Kingdom Hearts II into a supremely emotional experience. Seriously, this has to be in the highest pantheon of heavenly video game soundtracks, its rapturous aural compositions serving to heighten the already affecting story of Roxas, Sora, and their friends. Something I always appreciate about a Square-developed RPG is its contemplative existentialism (subtlety present or absent) and Kingdom Hearts II is truly as metaphysically engaged as video games come. I'm sure none of this has changed your mind, but I'm glad to be able to have gotten some of these feelings out from my innards and into the open sea of irrelevent information that is the Internet.

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