Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Game played on: PS4
Release date: December 2, 2008/ March 28, 2017 (PS4 re-release)
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has an interesting history. While not the second numbered title in the series, it is in fact a direct sequel to the first game. It was also not originally released onto home consoles, but debuted instead on the Game Boy Advance. A remake for the Playstation 2 was made titled Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories.
I am not a fan of this one. Every problem people have with the Kingdom Hearts series, I believe, can be traced back to this game. It is not a spinoff, but a main entry into the series. The plot of this game is vital to understanding what is going on in Kingdom Hearts II, yet it was originally released on a handheld instead of a mainline console. This just made the series difficult to get into, as it meant that someone would have to spend money on more gaming systems than they may have wanted. But even forgetting the poor release philosophy of this game, the plot is mostly just setup for the next game and the gameplay is a boring chore.
Taking place after the first game, Sora, Donald, and Goofy follow Pluto to a large and mysterious castle named Castle Oblivion. When they arrive, they are confronted by a mysterious figure in a black cloak who warns them that Castle Oblivion takes away a person’s memories the further they go into it. But, a person Sora cares deeply for is in it. Yet this person is not necessarily who Sora thinks they are. With this serving as motivation, the trio decides to press on into Castle Oblivion, even as their memories are in danger of fading away.
I’ll give Chain of Memories’ plot this: it has interesting setup for Kingdom Hearts II. It ignores the crossover elements of the first game in favor of expanding its own universe and characters. The new villains of Organization XIII are genuinely cool and mysterious, as well as entertaining to watch. This game gave us Axel, one of the most interesting characters of Kingdom Hearts. The main antagonist Marluxia is a pretty good opponent for Sora and company, having more of a presence than Ansem did. He’s cunning in his own right, and not afraid to get his hands dirty when the time comes.
However, most of the game’s plot is too focused on setup for it to be interesting on its own. It’s also very poorly paced, going on for way too long. Compounding the length problem is the half of the game where you play as Riku, and the levels all being less well designed, boring rehashes of the worlds from the previous game. Said levels also end with Sora giving obnoxious and childishly written monologues to the characters about whatever lesson they were supposed to learn. It would’ve been better just to have the game’s levels be entirely in the castle. The levels end up merely being padding, rather than working with the narrative.
Chain of Memories makes a big change in gameplay by going from the action combat of the first one to card based strategy combat. Sora and company can no longer attack and use magic at the press of a button, but now have to use a card system to combine cards into attacks and special moves. Enemies play by the same rules you do, where the one with the higher number can cancel out your cards for an attack, or just draw a zero numbered card as a backup. I’ll be upfront and say I have no interest in games that operate by this system, but I did give it a chance. However, the gameplay falls completely on its face as you play. Eventually, all you’ll have to do to win is combine the right cards for the right number to do the Sonic Blade move, which locks your enemy into a string of attacks. Just have cards to resupply the ones you draw and you’ll be pretty much golden. There’s almost no real or fair challenge to the system whatsoever, and combined with the length of the plot, makes for a very boring experience. Also, for the above mentioned Riku section of the game, you’re unable to customize your deck, and must make due with the cards you are given for each level. Because that makes things so much more fun. Just play on easy mode to get things over with,
The music is for the most part returning tracks from the first game, and a few new additions involving Castle Oblivion and the Organization XIII members. It’s nothing special but points for not taking step backwards in that department. Haley Joel Osmont’s performance as Sora is jarringly different from what it was in the first game. It hasn’t been long at all since the events of Kingdom Hearts, but here it sounds like Sora has already hit puberty. Quinton Flynn as Axel does well, managing to make both a loveable yet threatening villain out of him.
Re: Chain of Memories isn’t overall a bad game, but it is definitely the weakest game I’ve played in the Kingdom Hearts series. I’ve heard that the original game for the Game Boy Advance is better designed, so maybe this is just a case of a remake being lesser than the original. Whatever the case may be, Chain of Memories overall does not work either on its own, as a sequel, or as setup for the next game. A very disappointing, and average misfire.