Picking a favourite game is hard work. What constitutes a favourite game? The one that made you the most emotional? The one with the most memories attached to it? The best one in terms of game design and lasting impact on the industry?
At first I went for Streets of Rage 2. My dad and I spent a lot of time bonding over this game, as a kid and while I grew up into the mildly sweaty nerd I am today. When he passed away a few years ago, the game meant even more to me than it already did. A window into the good old days, when we cleaned the streets together, me with my Dr Pepper and my dad with his whisky.
Then I thought of Final Fantasy XII. To me, this game is the pinnacle of JRPG’s. It does so much right that whatever it does wrong is negligible and I’ve spent hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or more, hours just exploring, min maxing, speedrunning and a whole host of other pointless things. I spent 15 hours grinding my character to level 99 before leaving the first city. For fun. This game got me into JRPG’s and nothing has come close to dethroning it.
But in the end, there was only one answer to this question. It all comes back to Kingdom Hearts 2. And that’s because it has both the emotional impact and memories of Streets of Rage, while also being one of the best action-RPG’s I’ve ever played.
Let’s break down the components that make KH2 the best game ever.
The gameplay fucking rocks. Very action based, all about high speed combos and constant movement, with lots of over the top abilities (RAGNORAK!), magic and all of it totally customisable. You can make an 8 hit long combo or shorten it to just 2 hits, it’s totally up to you. While it doesn’t let you choose between focusing on magic or melee, as they level up automatically whether you want them to or not, they both are so much fun to use that you won’t even care.
And talking about gameplay, you cannot talk about KH without talking about bosses. Ice titan, Hades, Axel, Sephiroth, Xemnas, all the Organisation XIII fights. They are constantly inventive and force you to mix up your play style. Sometimes it’s just a case of mashing the attack button till they die. Others you may need to time your blocks and launch careful counterattacks, sometimes you may have a time limit. They are always different and always fun.
Especially Sephiroth's fight. Love that fight.
Also you can dual wield keyblades. DUAL. WIELD. KEYBLADES. Amazing! I’ve beaten KH2 many, many times and I’m not close to being bored. Just put the difficulty to Proud mode. It’s a little on the easy side. :D
Oh Sora and Riku, you so kawaii desu.
Sora, the main character and the one you play as, is a super nice guy and always on the side of justice and doing the right thing. He’s equal parts goofy, serious, smart and sensitive. Essentially, someone easy to relate to and play as. Couple that with Donald Duck and Goofy, who remind me of the best parts of my childhood and are on form in KH2, and you have a very strong trio of heroes that make any cut-scene a joy to watch.
The supporting characters all get this level of care as well. Roxas, Namine, Axel, they all have well defined identities (or not, considering they are nobodies HAHAHAHA…I’m sorry) and personalities. Even the bad guys have their own flair. From the kinda annoying idiocy of ‘DANCE WATER, DANCE!’ to Saix’s brooding manner or Xemnas’s preaching and fanatical ramblings, it makes you want to see who you’ll meet next, what you’ll see next.
Just be glad gifs don't have sound.
And of course, Disney. If you love Disney, you’ll love KH2. Nightmare before Christmas, The Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, they all make an appearance. Hell you turn into a super cute lion in the Lion King world! It’s just so much fun to see these icons from my childhood and fighting alongside them, hearing them talk, going through the events of the story but altered. Pure joy.
KH2 holds a special part in my heart. I was around 14 when I played it and it left a huge impression on me. As a shy kid who had quite a few friends but only 2 really close friends, I looked at games as my main avenue for having fun and seeing new things. Before KH2 I just played games for the fun of it, to enjoy the gameplay and character’s, not looking at how they made me feel, what the main themes were or anything below the surface. But KH2 changed all that. All this talk of ‘darkness’ and ‘nobodies’ and ‘shadows’ seems like convoluted tripe but for me, it just went deeper.
Good times man.
It was a story about friendship and looking out for friends, no matter what. It was about redemption, owning upto mistakes and amending them the best you can. It was about identity and what YOU think about yourself. KH2 kick-started a radical shift in my perception of videogames and helped me look critically at games, dissect them more than I ever did before. And therefore, it helped me enjoy games on a whole other level.
And it has Donald Duck wielding a sceptre in it, Goofy sliding around on a shield like my mother at an ice rink and Pete tripping me up with marbles!
What a marvellous game.
Also best fan-fiction ever.