Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories Review

Lead me into everlasting darkness…

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories was the second of the long line of games released by Square Enix and is an intermediary between Kingdom Hearts 1 & 2. It is the first of a few games released on Nintendo Consoles. Melody of Memories will be the next upcoming game, but won’t be out until November. For those of you new to the series, let’s just say this game is a love child of Final Fantasy and Disney, and the story spans across several games.

The game covers the adventures of our three brave protagonists to this story: Sora, Donald & Goofy. Together, in a land between light and darkness, they are on a quest to find their missing friends. Soon, the trio stumble across a mysterious location called Castle Oblivion. Inside the building, a hooded man appears before the protagonists with a cryptic message. He tells them “In this place, to find is to lose, and to lose is to find”. After this, he samples Sora’s memories and stores a segment of this in a card. The trio are able to access a memory of a world they are familiar with from the previous game. Unbeknownst to the gang, Castle Oblivion is currently occupied by the newly introduced antagonists, “Organization XIII”. The trio has to balance facing off against the Organization, all the while losing memories of those they hold dearest along the way.

“To find is to lose, and to lose is to find”

The game didn’t meet the level of praise its predecessor did when first released on the Gameboy Advance, but proved to be an enjoyable experience to some among the community. Soon after, it received a major facelift when it was remade for the Playstation 2, much to the excitement of fans everywhere. Now, it lives on in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 collection on the PS4.

So, is it worth playing?

Here’s my take.

One of the more powerful attacks in game when playing as Sora.

Let’s look into the gameplay first. It’s an enmeshment of action, and card based battles. You have a limited deck of cards to fight with. These card categories can range from keyblade attacks, summons, potions and magic attacks. Each card is numbered from 0 to 9, and your success against an enemy’s attack is predicted solely on which person plays the higher card, but there is one exception! If you have a 0, you can counter the number played by the enemy, but the enemy can do the same. You can also combine multiple cards and add the total sum to a high number. This creates special attacks called “sleights“, and for attacks, it strengthens the hits you make to opponents. There are regular cards where the numbers beside the cards are in plain white, and premium cards, where the numbers appear yellow.

There’s a lot of versatility when using the cards in game.

Some cards you collect aren’t used for battle, but for adding special attributes to rooms while exploring different worlds. As long as you have a card that meets the numbered requirement, you can make the room whatever you want it to be. It is refreshing to be able to choose any room, and turn it into save, moogle or a special kind of card boosting room. You need to collect 3-4 special golden cards to progress into parts of the story related to each world. You can progress to the next floor or boss battle once you have finished exploring the world on a floor. Each floor also has special cards that can access different worlds. It can be quite dizzying trying to remember which cards you have, so always make sure you review your deck regularly.

Side effects of entering Castle Oblivion may include: forgetfulness, brain damage and cloning.

Now, for the story. I strongly recommend that you play the first game before this one. There are a lot of important elements in the story that appears in later games. The story also splits off into two parts – Sora, and Riku’s version of events. I found it such a shame that you couldn’t choose between characters from the start, but I can see why this direction was taken. The main cutscenes in Castle Oblivion was good, though sometimes you can catch moments where the characters suddenly have flat iron board faces. The voice acting sometimes lacked emotion too during some cutscenes. The stories surrounding the other worlds however, were not at all impressive. It felt like watching a clip show with sloppy dialogue and you could see text copied and pasted from the previous game.

The main storyline itself was pretty interesting and had potential!

Most of the worlds from the previous game did make it to this one, except for Tarzan’s Deep Jungle world. I’m not entirely sure as to why this was the case. Regardless, it didn’t match the pacing of the main story, and some scenes felt really underwhelming. One minute you’re in Castle Oblivion, feeling the tension, and the next, you’re smashing honey pots into Winnie the Pooh’s head.

Unfortunately, many of the assets felt recycled from the Playstation 2. The graphics, the music, the assets. There were opportunities for the team to upgrade on the graphics in particular. I felt that this was a real let down to fans. The music could have been more versatile, and match the beat to the growing tension of the story. Sadly, this was not to be. They tragically underused the talent and range of Yoko Shimomura‘s abilities as a composer.

Is it replayable? Would you want to play it again?

I really wanted to like this game more than I did. I really did. It was one of the few games I haven’t touched in the series, a missing piece in the puzzle to fully understand the story. I can’t ignore the underlying problems with this game. I felt like pulling my hair out from the card battle system mechanics. The revamped game also missed a chance at allowing the player to listen to the dialogue in Japanese for the main cutscenes. The ideas for the game are in the right places, such as the “build your own dungeon” mechanic with cards. It sadly did not survive for more than a portion of the game. Grinding for cards isn’t fun, and neither is having a limited variation of rooms to convert with cards.

It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the game in some parts. I did. Reverse/Rebirth’s part of the story (Riku’s perspective) did an amazing job with redeeming part of the experience. It freed me from the filler hell, but sadly wasn’t able to remedy the bad voice acting, lazy soundtrack or the reused assets. I personally wouldn’t replay this, but I’m glad to have experienced the gaming fusion experiment that is Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories.

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