Kingdom Hearts II is a 2005 action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 2 video game console. The game is a sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and like the original game, combines characters and settings from Disney films with those of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series. An expanded re-release of the game featuring new and additional content, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix, was released exclusively in Japan in March 2007. The Final Mix version of the game was later remastered in high definition and released globally as a part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix collection for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.
Kingdom Hearts II is the third game in the Kingdom Hearts series. It picks up one year after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Sora, the protagonist of the first two games, returns to search for his lost friends while battling the sinister Organization XIII, a group of antagonists previously introduced in Chain of Memories. Like the previous games, Kingdom Hearts II features a large cast of characters from Disney and Square Enix properties.
Concepts for Kingdom Hearts II began during the end of development of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, with the game entering full development in 2003 and being announced at Tokyo Game Show 2003. Most of the first game’s development team returned, including director Tetsuya Nomura, with the game being developed concurrently with Chain of Memories. In developing Kingdom Hearts II, the development team sought to address user feedback from the first game, give the player more freedom and options in combat and present a deeper and more mature plot.
The game earned several awards upon release, receiving critical praise for its story, gameplay, characters, graphical improvements, and has since been cited as one of the greatest video games of all time. In both Japan and North America, it shipped more than one million copies within weeks of its release, with over four million worldwide by April 2007.
The gameplay of Kingdom Hearts II is similar to the action RPG and hack and slash gameplay of the first Kingdom Hearts game, though developers made an effort to address some of the complaints of no map and camera bugs with the previous game. The player directly controls Sora from a third-person camera angle, though first-person perspective is available via Select button. Most of the gameplay occurs on interconnected field maps where battles take place. The game is driven by a linear progression from one story event to the next, usually told via cutscenes, though there are numerous side-quests available that provide bonuses to characters.
Like many traditional role-playing video games, Kingdom Hearts II features an experience point system which determines character development. As enemies are defeated, the player and allies culminate experience to “level up”, in which the playable characters grow stronger and gain access to new abilities.
Combat in Kingdom Hearts II is in real-time and involves heavy hack and slash elements with button presses which initiate attacks by the on-screen character. A role-playing game menu on the screen’s bottom left, similar to those found in Final Fantasy games, provides other combat options such as using magic or items, summoning beings to assist in battle, or executing combination attacks with other party members. A new feature is the “Reaction Command”, special enemy-specific attacks that are triggered when the player presses the triangle button at the correct time during battle. Reaction Commands can be used to defeat regular enemies or avoid damage, and are sometimes necessary to complete a boss battle. In addition to the main character, two party members are usually present who also participate in combat. Although these characters are computer-controlled, the player is allowed to customize their behavior to a certain extent through the menu screen, such as attacking the same enemy Sora targets.
In response to criticism, the “Gummi Ship” feature of the first game was re-imagined to be “more enjoyable”. Although retaining its basic purpose of travel, the system was completely redone to resemble a combination of rail shooter and “Disney theme park ride”. In the world map, the player must now control the Gummi Ship from a top-down view and fly to the world the player wishes to enter. Worlds are no longer open from the beginning—the player must unlock the routes to them by entering a new level, controlling the ship from a third-person point of view, and battling enemy ships. After the route is opened, travel to the world is unimpeded, unless it is blocked again due to a plot-related event. The player may also gain new Gummi Ships from completing routes, which is also a new feature from the first game.