Update 3 – Time played: 19 hours, 1 minute
It’s about time I went into Kingdom Hearts 2 again, after a long while Smash Ultimate and Game of the Year content. I’ve made a pretty significant amount of headway in my playthrough since last time, and have learned a lot about this game and what I think about it. I’ve managed to get through the Pride Lands, the big mid-game plot dump that’s standard in JRPGs, and nearly all of the Disney world revisits. At this point I’m fairly confident that I will be able finish this game within the next 5-10 hours. This means that this will be the final update to my Kingdom Hearts 2 Critical Mode Progressive Looks series. The next piece of Kingdom Hearts 2 content you’ll see on this site will be my full review of the experience. Let’s get into it.
Over the past 9 hours of playing this game, I’ve come to a realization as to why people see Critical Mode as a whole new kind of game, and why I’ve been enjoying it so much. A common criticism of Kingdom Hearts 2 is that you can get through nearly every combat encounter in a casual playthrough of the game on Standard Mode by button mashing. You can just mash X and Triangle a lot and finish the game. Critical Mode punishes that mentality and encourages the player to be smart and aware of all offensive and defensive options the game gives them. In any given situation I can swing the Keyblade, use an offensive spell, guard, jump, use my Quick Run ability, cast Reflect, activate one of my drive forms or one of my limits. There’s also small nuances to each of those options, like how many attacks should I use? Should I go for a full combo? Should I drop the combo before my enemy retaliates and cast reflect? How many reflects should I cast? A beautiful thing about the KH2 combat system is that you’re able to freely weave physical attacks and spells together in a single combo. This means that I can go for a ground combo, get 3 hits in, notice that my enemy is about to retaliate, and combo my 3rd hit into a reflect to avoid damage. I wouldn’t deal as much damage as if I went for a full combo, but I’ve avoided a potentially lethal hit.
I was talking to a friend of mine about these options and using them intelligently instead of going gung-ho and hoping for the best, and he made an extremely well-put comparison, saying that on the lower difficulties you’re playing as a shonen anime protagonist, while on Critical Mode you’re playing as a samurai. On top of all of these options, you’re also playing close attention to your enemies, watching for tells and openings and only committing to an attack when you know you’re going to make it count, and knowing exactly what attack you’re going to make. This is the most apparent with the Organization XIII boss fights, those required in the story and the optional fights I mentioned last time. Vexen, for example, has a shield that must be broken before he can be damaged or even staggered. This means I have to wait for him to attack, cast Reflect on that attack and combo into a ground combo off the Reflect explosion. From there, I can only do three ground combos before he might retaliate, so after the third finisher I cast Reflect again just in case, and then run away to regroup and heal if I need to. This means that I’ve been trying the Absent Silhouette optional boss fights. These fights have tested me the most out of anything else I’ve done in Critical Mode so far, and have also been the most fun.
The only bad thing I can say about what I’ve experienced so far, and this isn’t really a dig at Critical Mode at all, is that the game does next to nothing to teach you about these extra options and nuances within it. Most of what I’ve pulled off in the game has been from me picking things up on my own as I play it. This might not be a bad thing to some as it feels really good to discover things on your own, but to those that complained about the simple the game is at first glance could really benefit from some kind of tutorial or encouragement about something like how useful Reflect can be. I’ll get into it a bit more in the full review, once I’ve finalized my thoughts on Critical Mode. Thanks for reading this Al Unlocked Progressive Looks series on Kingdom Hearts 2, and stay tuned!
Kingdom Hearts 2 – Critical Mode