Difficulty is a big deal in both KH2 and KH3, for me specially KH2. When there is no difficulty in your playthrough and the only real challenge is somewhat Sephirot, why should we cared about how amazing the concepts and mechanics are? And, while this is just an opinion, KH2 only shines in the combat department. When everything have been designed in your game for the combat (not only level design, but also minigames and subquest), and the combat can be easily summarized in smash X because it works and the game gives you zero hint into playing any other way, why should we have high standards for such a game?Guess you can count me with the Reddit crowd because I'm eye rolling hard at some the anti-KH2 comments here. There's a lot, a LOT I can say about the gameplay of these two games, but I'll just focus on intention. What are the developer's intentions for each respective game? What are they trying to achieve?
KH2 was developed to be an action game. Full stop. It's been described as such by the staff themselves and it's evident by the core gameplay loop and level structure. That means that how well this goal is achieved lies within the strength of it's combat system. And it's pretty strong. A refined combo system with tons of attacks that have distinct purposes and effects. A magic system that puts other ARPGs to shame. Mechanics that are completely under player control and interact with each other in ways that force players to make decisions. It's a monumental improvement over KH1's combat. It stumbles here and there in regards to enemy design and such but overall it nailed what it set out to do. So while it's totally fair to dog on it for failing to offer the same experience KH1 did, ignoring all the above and saying it sucks based on standards it's not even trying to live up to is narrow-minded.
And yes, I am talking about KH2 vanilla here. I think the people that actually need to go back and play 2 vanilla are the 3RM crowd themselves. What exactly did 2FM include that took vanilla from bad to good? Critical Mode? Difficulty doesn't exist in a vacuum. If the battle system is crap, why would I be interested in playing at a higher difficulty? (Paging KH3 Crit) New boss battles? See Critical Mode. Dodge Roll? Are people actually being serious with this? I agree not including it was stupid, but people bring it up as if it's a damning blow against vanilla. You don't even get it until way after Quick Run becomes available and it fills the same purpose. 2FM made a bunch of great additions, but the way it played never changed. So I don't understand how content that makes up maybe 15% of a whole playthrough could change someone's opinion so drastically.
KH3RM's gameplay priorities are kinda split. Combat-wise, it tries and utterly fails to surpass KH2. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that every returning mechanic is worse than it ever has been. The combo system was butchered and constantly breaks its own rules. Combat is filled with attacks that all do basically the same thing with little variance. Half of the game's mechanics are relegated to random pop-ups that can barely be influenced. And all the mechanics are strictly isolated from each other, meaning there are no interesting decisions to make. In other words, there's no skill allowed in this game. Yeah, yeah "KH2 is press X to win" blah blah blah, whatever. At least cranking the difficulty up to max made it clear how well designed the combat is. Doing the same with 3RM just sealed the deal on it being poorly thought out trash.
And people really out here calling 2's combat dated? 3RM just came out and it's already dated. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I've played a lot of action games and I can comfortably tell you that for a high budget, 2019 game from a veteran series, 3RM's combat is embarrassing. If fans talking about basic shit like weapon switching and a timed block that buffs your damage like they're the hottest thing since sliced bread isn't proof of that I don't know what is. 2 had genuinely innovative mechanics like Revenge Value and Offsetting (3 years before Bayonetta did).
Detailed world exploration was also something the team talked a lot about in interviews but it fails at this as well. I've seen others bring up this game's giant worlds in an attempt to own KH2 but in terms of progression they're almost identical. You fight a mob, move forward, fight another mob, move forward so more. Obviously I prefer them to 2's but if the goal is to harkon back to KH1, are they really that praise-worthy? Is it really right to call holding forward to effortlessly run up a wall or cross a gap 'platforming'? Feel free to go back through them and count the times you're actually required to press the jump button. It's not that many. KH1's platforming was pretty rudimentary but at least there was often tension.
So KH3RM fails to create a battle system than rivals KH2 and it fails to have exploration that rivals KH1, but somehow 2 is the game that sucks? Maybe some of you need to reevaluate what exactly it was that you liked about 3.
Critical mode and subsequent gameplay twitch made KH2FM and KH3RM very good games to play and experiment with. And as much as I agree KH2 is more tight, when most of the mechanics are meant to complement each other, and KH3 has horrible implemented mechanics (attraction flows and to some extent team attacks), I still feel KH3RM has a very good combat system, amazing mechanics, and it is fun. KH3 combo system is good, laggy and aerial at launch but updates have corrected that. Keyblade transformation works well. They are not drive forms to use in specific moments but integral to playthrough of the game. Some of them are quickier, some of them are slower but more powerful, and gives the player many options depending on the regard/sacrifice they want to make. Grand magic is powerful and not so easily exploitable in critical mode/pro codes. Links are quite brain-dead to use and are truly powerful, but uses full MP so it is the player choice to use them while sacrifing other magics, including cure in Critical Mode. Air-stepping, aerial dodge/dash, aerial guard, critical counter, all the reprisals, etc, are again good additions to the combat system not present in any other KH game. And the postgame content in RM is really, really good. It tells something that, even if they can be cheesed with a specific strategy (like those in KH2FM for the record), people can play trough them with many different playstyles and still have a challenge, including using or not many keyblade transformations or links, all pro codes on, etc.
I am not in the boat that to glorify KH3 we need to put dirt on KH2, specially regarding the combat system. KH2 is for many and for good reasons the best combat system ever made in the KH series. However, the same can be said otherwise. KH3 as it is now, it's fun, it's full of challenges and it is appropiate to every type of player. Those who like lvl 1 deadly restriction can have fun with both games, and casual players which don't mind how well implemented the mechanics are and just want to do powerful attacks can also enjoy both games. Tha being said, while I do understand KH2 combat should recieve high praise, I think it didn't do nearly as well in any other aspect of the game. I think it is average at most everything else, maybe except for the storyline (in paper, hated the pacing from the start).
So your last question, what we (I) liked about KH3, is simple. I had a lot of fun playing it, in general. I had more fun playing it in critical mode three months after release than I had playing KH2FM critical mode 10 years after release. I know the combat systems wasn't as well executed as KH2, but yet I can't help myself but wanting to go back way more into KH3, thinking if I could beat X superboss with X keyblade this time. And everythign else that is not combat, I truly believe KH3 did better, including pacing and charm and characters, specially Sora. I believe KH3 offers way more as a whole package than KH2 ever did. It hits right on some spots that enhance my perception of the game. I still believe I appreciate more at least one other game in the series, but KH3 as a whole I think is amazing.
At the end of the day, it narrows to how much fun and entertaiment we have when playing the game, and that can be really subjective. While for some people combat it's the main aspect of the game, it is not for me. I like things like gummi ship, and data greeting, and flanstatic seven, and photo missions and classic kingdom, as I liked the puppies, the trinities, the minigame sin KH1. I like worlds with variety with the worlds feeling different from each other. I like the chests to be at least a little bit hidden. I like to do something else than just run ahead. Even if it is not the best in every department and still have some flaws in it, I prefer it.
And this trend that started with KH2 fans hating KH3 and now have become the other way around... people need to be critical with themself and understand they prob have bias. Both games are highly regarded for many, many fans. Both games have good quality and have been succesful in the market and from critics. Just beacuse I hate the plain design of KH2 i wouldn't call it low quality. The developers still put a lot of work into every single detail, success or fail, that were in those games. There is room for arguing how they handled the plot differently, how the combat differs, how the design differs, etc. And we all have an opinion that can be true. But the way to discuss things is not completly trashing on one game or the other for the sake of defend the one we like the most. And that applied for everything, not just games.