Things have been hectic in my life lately, but a bit over a week ago I had some down time and I decided to dust off the old PlayStation 2 and put in one of my favorite games from that era, Kingdom Hearts 2. My PlayStation 2, having not seen action in many years, took awhile to start reading the disc, but once it recognized it I was back in the game. It still played just like I remembered it, and after a little while my itch for the game had been scratched, but it also got me thinking about the differences between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2. While Kingdom Hearts 2 fixed a number of the issues from the original Kingdom Hearts and improved on the overall formula of the Kingdom Hearts games, it also created a small number of new problems. It was two steps forward, one step back. For me, there are three main areas where the game stumbled.

The first was the overly long introductory sequence. The original Kingdom Hearts had you playing as protagonist Sora, but the opening hours of Kingdom Hearts 2 switch things up and you instead play as new character Roxas. That you’re playing as a different character is itself not a problem, but what goes wrong in Kingdom Hearts 2 is that the time you spend playing as Roxas doesn’t have enough meaningful material to justify its length. Roxas’ story is broken into six days, but everything important that happens in those six days could have been more effectively told in four days, maybe even less. When you finish playing as Roxas it is a relief, not because Roxas himself is a bad character, but because the opening of Kingdom Hearts 2 can feel sort of like getting hazed. It’s as if the game is testing you to see if you’ve got the patience to endure the first two hours or so before the game starts to shine.

The second place where Kingdom Hearts 2 faltered, at least for me, was with the Reaction Commands, which were certain moments during combat where you had the chance to counter an enemy’s action by pressing the triangle button. Reaction Commands could only be done when the game prompted you to do so and you had less than a second to push the button. Sometimes the Reaction Commands were fitting, and other times they weren’t, and this inconsistency led me to eventually dislike them. For example, there is a Reaction Command for a certain boss fight that allows you to dodge while in mid-air, and this is an instance where the Reaction Commands work well, as you would normally have minimal control while off the ground. There are other times however, where Reaction Commands are just substitutes for normal game mechanics, such as blocking, and in those cases it would have been better to just have the player use the block command (or whatever) rather than a Reaction Command.

The third and final issue with Kingdom Hearts 2 was its overall difficulty. The normal difficulty setting for Kingdom Hearts 2 was too easy, and from what I understand, this was a result of people complaining that the normal difficulty of the original Kingdom Hearts was too hard. Personally, I thought the normal difficulty of the first Kingdom Hearts was just fine, and I’m the type of person who doesn’t like hard games, so I was disappointed to find myself blowing through most of the game without too much effort. Kingdom Hearts 2’s hard difficulty, called Proud Mode, should have been the normal difficulty setting, and then Proud Mode should have been a true hard difficulty setting for those that wanted to challenge themselves.

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