First, the graphics. They are simply beautiful. The designers perfectly captured the animation in the first game, and despite that, the new one looks even better. From the cartoony steamboat of Steamboat Willy fame to the Beast's flowing cape, the movements, designs, and animations can almost be mistaken for a finished animation cel. Its interesting to that all of the returning Final Fantasy characters sans Cid have received all out makeovers, and instead of a more anime-ish look like the first game, they now sport some slightly more realistic designs.
Story wise, KH II is just as good as the first. Yes, a certain major villain from the first is back, and yes, you're traveling worlds trying to beat Heartless, but thankfully, it's not a rehash. It has quite a few interesting twists and turns and even a few very emotional moments, starting with the beginning, which interestingly enough, doesn't feature Sora at all, but an entirely new character. And by the time Sora returns, we wind up caring for this new character quite a bit, and actually wind up missing him. And Mickey fans rejoice: while the Mouse only appeared for about a minute of the first game, this time around he has a much larger role.
Gameplay wise, Kingdom Hearts II excels. Although the platforming is gone, Square has made sure that you won't be bored. Some tasks include a wild ride on Aladdin's magic carpet, helping Mulan join the Imperial Army, singing in a duet with Ariel, and helping an amnesiac Winnie the Pooh get enough honey to eat on an insane adventure that goes throughout the 100 Acre Wood and even on the text of the Pooh book itself. The combat, well, it takes the cake. The new system is incredibly deep, filled with Reaction commands that let you perform new combos against enemies and bosses, Limit attacks that let you perform combination attacks with your various party members, and the drive gauge, which not only enhances the power of your summon monsters, but also allows Sora to merge with his allies into a full blown powerhouse warrior. The Gummi Ship segments are no longer a chore: gone are the slow-moving bland environments from the first game, instead giving us a fast paced blast fest that does a much better job of replicating the old quarter munchers of yore. And did I mention the fact that the camera has improved greatly?
There are many new tunes that each perfectly fit each new world, with the themes from the returning worlds also coming back. I have little complaints overall, in fact, my biggest gripe is I would have loved to hear "What's This?" being played during the Christmas portion of the Nightmare Before Christmas world. Voice wise, well, Haley Joel Osment once again shines as Sora, Christopher Lee is absolutely brilliant as Diz, and of course the usual Disney VAs such as Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, and Bill Farmer, are perfect. Best of all, most of the cast members have voices, including returning ones who didn't in the first such as Chip and Dale, the rest of the Winnie the Pooh cast, and Cid. Only a few do not have voices, such as Uncle Scrooge McDuck(which is a shame, as I would have loved to hear Alan Young) All of the returning Final Fantasy cast members, save Cloud, have new voices though, and range from good(Squall/Leon) to disappointing(Aerith).
Kingdom Hearts II is definitely worth the time we've endured, as well as the $50 dollar price tag. This is a must buy title and it leaves me anticipating just what the unbeatable team of Disney and Square will do next.