While Kingdom Hearts II doesn't have the best story in the series, this second volume of the light novel does a solid job of patching some of the rough spots.

Kingdom Hearts II: The Novel 2Title: Kingdom Hearts II
Genre: Adventure, fantasy
Publisher: Square-Enix (JP), Yen Press (US)
Writer: Tomoco Kanemaki
Original Concept: Tetsuya Nomura, Kazushige Nojima
Artist: Shiro Amano
Translation: Melissa Tanaka
Original Release Date: December 19, 2017
Review copy provided by Yen Press

I still remember the days counting down to Kingdom Hearts II. Although fans had received a handheld sequel in the form of the Game Boy Advance game Chain of Memories, the epic epilogue of the first entry had left many of us anxious for the true continuation of Sora’s adventures. While it was — and still is — very popular, certain aspects are a mess. The general consensus among players is that there is too much left until the very end (both story and Boss fights). The Disney worlds being filler and Sora being kept out of the loop are also very common criticisms.

I say all this because there’s only so much author Kanemaki can do when the original script has such flaws. While the previous novels have also had many liberties taken, Kanemaki can’t suddenly have Sora learning about his Nobody in Beast’s Castle or take a side trip to Destiny Islands to meet Kairi. So in many ways, Kingdom Hearts II: The Novel is just about as good as you can make the story without completely remaking it.

This second volume (technically omnibus) starts off during the invasion of Hallow Bastion sequence, the time when Sora teams up with all the Final Fantasy characters and does the 1000 Heartless battle. After that, Sora visits several of the Disney worlds (Mulan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Beauty and the Beast, plus Disney Castle and a return to Space Paranoids) before heading towards the end of the original game. I was surprised the novel actually had Sora visiting so many of these places considering the first volume was really shallow in this regard. I guess it’s because members of the Organization are hanging around in these lands, but I’m glad I got to see Sora cheer up the Beast and argue with Jack Sparrow. Some locations are still missing, but in some cases, the abridged version makes the story flow more smoothly. Sora, Donald, and Goofy go straight to helping protect the Emperor and China instead of having a random kid and two walking, talking animals asking to join the army.

However, the biggest improvement to the story is explaining just what the heck everyone else is doing while Sora is world-hopping. Several different schemes are happening without Sora’s knowledge, and the game hides a lot of these to keep the mystery. The light novel doesn’t have any of these reservations, and it’s better that it doesn’t considering most readers have played the game. Axel in particular gets plenty of pagetime as he tries to figure out how to reunite with Roxas and why (or, more accurately, how) he “feels” lonely if he doesn’t have a heart. These are the sections that truly make the light novel worth reading as it actually expands the story and is not a book report summary of the plot.

In fact, I almost wish instead of an adaptation of Kingdom Hearts II that this was a spin-off with full chapters on DiZ’s change of heart and how Riku feels while secretly facing Sora. Kanemaki is just so much better at writing about the characters rather than epic adventures or battles. Sometimes it’s hard to picture how dangerous the situation is when all it takes is some Keyblade bashing and the occasional spell from Donald. (Goofy, when he is mentioned, generally covers the others, of course.) Plus, it’s really weird that we never get to read about Sora summoning his powers to bring out a second Keyblade but somehow Anti-Sora suddenly appears toward the end.

Speaking of odd, after the opening color inserts and character introductions, no illustration is included for about 75 pages. Then, within 25 pages, there are four. Yes, art should be added for the more important or interesting scenes, but it just was so unbalanced. Fortunately, there isn’t such a long drought for the rest of the images.

I also want to add that the second novel is titled Anthem – Meet Again. This is the original title in Japanese, even though Ansem – Meet Again is more logical considering the plot is about meeting Ansem again. I don’t know if Yen Press confirmed with Square Enix that it was to remain “Anthem” or if they just went with the English title they were given. Other key phrases are lifted directly from the original game, but the abridged version of the Secret Ansem Reports, for instance, are changed slightly.

While Kingdom Hearts II doesn’t have the best story in the series, this second volume of the light novel does a solid job of patching some of the rough spots. With a good balance of old and new material and some Disney world adventures, this should help keep fans occupied until Kingdom Hearts III.