Two games in and the series’ plot has already gone to hell. And it only gets worse from here. Good job, guys.
Chain of Memories might be the strangest entry in the entire franchise. And that, as anyone who is familiar with Kingdom Hearts knows, is a very bold statement. A good number of people have never even played it, chalking it up to a simple spin-off. Unfortunately for them, it’s anything but.
Were you confused by the beginning of KH2? It’s because you didn’t play this game. You know. The Gameboy Advanced pseudo-sequel to a PS2 game.
Until they made it again on PS2. Which is the easiest version to get ahold of, so I’ll be talking about that one. Unfortunately, that’s the inferior version. So… fuck me, I guess.
Story: Your Memories Are Mine Now
How long until a die-hard KH fan shows up and corrects my summary in the comments? Place your bets now, everybody!
Shortly after the events of Kingdom Hearts 1, Sora, Donald, and Goofy find themselves at a mysterious castle called Castle Oblivion. There, they meet a figure in a black hood, a member of the mysterious Organization 13, who explains the rules of the castle and hints that Riku and Mickey may be there with them. To find their friends, Sora and the gang dive deeper and deeper into this castle. But as they go, they start to lose their memories! All the while, the Organization makes use of a mysterious girl called Namine to try and manipulate Sora for their own ends.
Much like most KH games, all the Disney stuff in this game is total filler. You could cut all of it out and not miss a damn thing. Especially since it’s all just a retreading of the KH1 worlds and stories, but now no one remembers Sora or the others. So a good 70% of this game’s plot is just a waste of your time.
The other 30% is confusing, but not bad. It introduces several members of Organization 13, one of whom we’d see a lot more of in KH2. The mystery behind Namine is decently compelling, even if the reveal is underwhelming at best. It’s a decent but forgettable little story.
Did you see what I did there?
While it is certainly it’s own thing, it does kinda just feel like sequel bait. Like a big advertisement for KH2. “Hey, wanna know more about Organization 13? Wanna know what Riku’s gonna do with this Diz guy? Wanna know what Twilight Town is? Or who Namine is? Play Kingdom Hearts 2 to find out!” It does kinda suck the joy out of the story when it feels like it’s just an add for another game.
TL;DR: not bad, but forgettable. Next.
Presentation: Yup. It’s Kingdom Hearts 1. Again.
I can literally just copy and paste everything I said about KH1’s graphics into here. It’s the exact same graphical engine. It has all the same strengths and weaknesses. I have nothing to add. If you like how KH1 looks, you like how Re:Chain of Memories looks. Moving on.
Gameplay: Why is this a card game?
Who looked at Kingdom Hearts, an action RPG, and thought: “Yeah, this needs to be a card game!”
The rules of the card game are pretty simple. Each card has a numerical value from 0 to 9. Higher number cards break lower number cards and 0 cards can break any card, but be broken by any card. You can combine three cards together to combine their values together and perform a special move, from casting a spell to unleashing a combo attack. Build your deck and time your card uses right in order to overcome your enemies.
The combat isn’t difficult to figure out. Mastering it, however, will prove a bit more difficult. Balancing timing and attacking is super hard to do, which can make the game pretty challenging. You don’t just need powerful cards and levels. If you lack true skill, this game will still kick your ass.
Not to mention that you still need to worry about dodging, blocking, and spacing. If you use that card and the enemy is out of your range, congratulations! You’ve wasted a card! Thankfully, the tracking is better than what we got in KH1, so you won’t be too frustrated. Any mistakes you make will be entirely your own.
The boss fights are pretty cool, too. Each one brings their own deck into battle and uses the same rules that you do. Meaning, in order to beat them, you can’t just bring the bigger numbers and kick their ass. You’ve got to strategize. Observe their patterns, time your card uses, and be patient. They’re tough, yes, but they’re also pretty rewarding and fun!
Traversal is also card based. To move forward, you need room cards, which also have a numerical value. Each one has an effect, from creating a room filled with heartless or giving you a savepoint. Some doors will require you to sacrifice cards of a certain value in order to open. This adds an extra bit of strategy; how do you build the map in order to level up quickly, get better cards, and avoid getting your ass kicked?
It would be super interesting if the levels weren’t so fucking flat, boring, and devoid of anything. No interesting puzzles or fun platforming. It’s just a bunch of stacked rooms with ladders. Every room is exactly the same and they are so goddamn boring.
And then there’s the grinding. This may be the single most miserable experience I’ve ever had in a video game. Not only do you need to go through the same boring levels over and over again. You need to collect cards. And which cards drop when and where is completely random. You cannot control it. You cannot change the odds in your favor. You just have to pour an ungodly amount of time into this game to get the cards you need to win.
Unless you’re playing as Riku, cause he’s got a prebuilt deck. With him, you’ll just be doing the normal level grinding. Unfortunately, that’s still about as fun as letting a cat claw at your skin.
Chain of Memories is an odd game. The combat is fun, challenging, and rewarding and deck building is satisfying. But unlike the other games in the series, this one gets old really fast. By the time I was finished with it, I was so drained that I never wanted to touch it again. And then the game said “Hey, wanna play Riku?!”
Still, for as much as I hated traversing the map, and as mediocre as the story is, I still enjoyed my time with this game. I wouldn’t play it again anytime soon, but I don’t look back on it with seething loathing. I just shrug and think “Yeah, that game was okay.”
I’d recommend giving Re:Chain of Memories (or GBA Chain of Memories, if you’ve got easy access to it) a shot. For all its faults, it’s still a decently fun little RPG and a decent enough entry into the Kingdom Hearts series. Sure, it was the first step towards insanity town. But that step at least wasn’t a missed one.
Also, it leads into KH2, which is my favorite game in this whole series. So… that’s a plus!