Review: Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories

KH ReCoM Box Art.jpg Square-Enix’s 2002 smash hit Kingdom Hearts for the PlayStation 2 certainly was a pleasant surprise. Featuring the odd combination of Disney worlds and characters with the essence of the Final Fantasy franchise and Square’s trend-setting production values, Kingdom Hearts’ seemingly incompatible mix actually melded together perfectly and set the groundwork for what has become one of the most popular RPG franchises in gaming.

Following the first game’s success, Square Enix made the odd decision to put the next game – Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories — on the GBA to build up for the full-fledged PS2 sequel that was to come out in 2006. As a GBA owner, this didn’t bother me, but at the time there was some outcry from many fans that didn’t have a GBA and therefore would have to miss out on important storyline details. Four years later, Square Enix finally decided to make things right by remaking Chain of Memories in 3D for PS2. With the PS2 now well past its prime, this remake perhaps comes a bit too late to resonate with fans as much as it would have had it been a PS2 game from the outset. But as the old saying goes, better late than never!

Functioning as a bridge between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Chain of Memories picks up right where the original left off. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are chasing after Pluto carrying an envelope with King’s Mickey’s seal on it. During the night a strange black-hooded figure confronts Sora, after which the adventurous threesome ends up at the dark and mysterious Castle Oblivion. Come to find out, once they set foot into the Castle all of the memories they made throughout their previous quest have been lost and transformed into a deck of cards.

To get his memories back, Sora must explore the various floors of Castle Oblivion, each of which encompasses a different game world from the first game and is an illusion made up from the memories encapsulated on the cards. You quickly learn, however, that each floor Sora completes causes him to lose more and more of his previous memories, but in return he uncovers another memory deep inside of him that he had forgotten.

Over the course of this roughly 20-hour adventure, you’ll visit many of the locales found in the original classic, including Traverse Town, Agrabah, Olympus Coliseum, Wonderland, Monstro, Halloween Town, Atlantica, Never Land, 100 Acre Wood, Hollow Bastion, and Destiny Islands, which also means many of the same Disney and Final Fantasy characters reappear as well. This familiarity is ultimately the game’s biggest weakness. Since the game basically takes place through events from Sora’s memories, you wind up repeating similar events to those in the first game, and a feeling of Déjà vu sets in every so often. Thankfully the retread content is balanced out just enough by new events that provide valuable insight into the back stories and motivations of new characters that appear in the sequel. In the remaking process, voice-overs were recorded for all the main characters too. Unfortunately, there is very little voiced dialogue throughout, but having some is at least better than the GBA’s complete lack of voice acting.

In terms of gameplay, Chain of Memories retains the core values of its original PS2 siblings, but in execution is drastically different. The series’ action-platformer-RPG play style is still the heart of the game, but in the original move to put the series on GBA a new strategy-oriented, card-base system was implemented, and so this system has been carried over in the PS2 remake. Every element in the game centers on Sora’s deck of cards, be it moving between floors of the castle, opening doors in one of the many illusionary locales, or fighting the dreaded Heartless in battle.

Each game world is setup as a series of small boxed-in rooms connected by doors. At each door, a card with a specified number ranging from zero to nine must be used to open that door. These types of cards, known as Map Cards, also come in different color sets (red, green, and blue) and categories that have altering effects on the adjacent room. For example, using one type of Map Card may cause all of the Heartless in the next room to be put to sleep, while another will allow you to spawn a save point. Doors leading to Event Rooms (i.e. boss encounters or story scenes) require special Map Cards that are usually just given to you after completing a certain area. Sometimes these doors require various criteria to be met before passing through. One door may open as simply as taking any red card you have or any card higher or lower than the depicted door number, while other doors might request any combination of cards that add up to a specific larger number.

While exploring the various floors and rooms of Castle Oblivion, you must engage the Heartless in battle to earn different Map Cards and level-up to be ready for the game’s many challenging boss battles. The battle system in Chain of Memories, like that of the other PS2 games, takes place all in real-time and is very action-oriented. However, there are quite a few differences that make this game unique. First, like in a traditional turn-based RPG, meeting an enemy during exploration takes you into a separate screen just for the battle. Don’t worry, though, these encounters aren’t random. You are able to see the enemies to engage and have every capability to dodge them and avoid battle.

When in a battle — though the gameplay is much the same in terms of action — every action during the fight corresponds to your current deck of cards. In the corner of the screen is a card reel containing every Battle Card in your deck. Battle Cards come in many forms, including Attack Cards, Magic Cards, Item Cards, Friend Cards, and Enemy Cards. Attack Cards are Sora’s common keyblade attacks, Magic Cards contain spell effects like fire and heal, Item Cards use special items like card reel refills, Friend Cards summon allies to temporarily help out, and Enemy Cards grant Sora powerful special abilities from the enemies he has defeated.

Using a card is as simple as cycling to it using the shoulder buttons and then pressing the X button. You can also stock up to three different cards for powerful combo attacks called Sleights by hitting the Triangle button over the desired three cards, but doing so permanently uses up the first stocked card. Since your deck can only contain a certain amount of cards depending on your current CP count (Card Points), you must use cards wisely in battle. Once every card has been used, the deck must be reshuffled by holding down the X button over the reload card. Reshuffling starts off very quick and easy, but the more times you have to reload the longer it takes to charge, which keeps the game from being an all-out button masher.

Similarly to Map Cards, every type of Battle Card carries a number from zero to nine, and these numbers are the crux of the game’s strategy. When performing an action, the number of the used card matches up against that of an opponent’s attack. If your attack number is higher, then your attack will outweigh the opponent’s and their attack will be broken, and vice versa; this is called a Card Break. A zero card is sort of a wildcard though. Any zero card automatically breaks any other attack as long as the zero card is used after the enemy has used its card. Performing Card Breaks is extremely important for defeating bosses, but you can get away without them during most normal battles. Later on in the game when your deck becomes pretty powerful, the standard Heartless don’t put up much of a challenge and you don’t have to worry too much about what cards you are using. This in turn can lead to some repetitious moments of button-mashing combat, but for the most part combat is never dull. Boss battles are especially challenging and require a lot of skill and pre-battle deck planning. Be ready to die frequently towards the end of the game.

The transition from GBA to PS2 couldn’t have gone any smoother. In fact, having the game in full 3D only makes it that much better than the original GBA version, both in terms of gameplay control and production values. Even with the PS2’s graphical capabilities far outdated on a technical level compared to the current console trio, this game proves that the system can still pump out impressive visuals. All told, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is a flawless remake of an already excellent game. The wait was well worth it!

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Pros:
+ Great storyline bridges the gap between KH1 and KH2
+ New card system introduces an interesting tactical twist
+ Remade 3D engine looks and plays great
+ Story is of perfect length; unlockable bonus material extends replay value

Cons:
– A lot of retread content from original Kingdom Hearts
– Limited voice acting

Game Info:
Platform: PS2
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 12/2/08
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!