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Kingdom of Hearts: Chain of Memories

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1- 2
Genre: RPG/ Card Games

Graphics & Sound:

It is a well-known fact that I’m a fan of both Kingdom Hearts and customizable card games, so the combination of both should be a home run. For the most part, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories meets or exceeds everything I was expecting from the game, but the success is not without its faults.

Visually, Chain of Memories has the same style as the PS2 game. After a successful jump from 2D to 3D, all of the Disney characters make an equally successful trip back. Characters aren’t as expressive as they can get considering the GBA’s limitations and manage to add some emotion to text box narrative. Each of the worlds fit their locales, whether it’s the rose gardens in Wonderland or spooky Halloween Town. Admittedly, worlds can look rather sparse and have a repetitive flow, but otherwise, they get the job done.

The aspect that will really get people talking is the use of CG cut-scenes during some story sequences. Most of the game’s story sequences take place using the game’s in-game graphics, but a few key elements are presented using cut-scenes that are rendered using the graphics from the PS2 game. The video quality is actually pretty good, but expect to see some blurring and graininess. Still, the movies are impressive, especially for a GBA game.

Audio is just as great as the visuals. Chain of Memories reuses many of the songs from Kingdom Hearts, only toned down for the GBA’s sound card. Even in their “diminished” form, the songs are still top notch and a lot of fun to listen to. A few voice effects are used, mostly in combat, and consist mainly of Sora yelling out the names of spells or the battle cries of summon spells.


Gameplay:

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories picks up immediately after the first game. After encountering a figure clad in black, Sora, with Goofy and Donald in tow, travels to the mysterious Castle Oblivion. Upon entering the castle, Sora discovers that his memories are slowly disappearing. From here the story tries to bring a mysterious ambience, but ends up feeling like more of a clips show rather than a complete story. Almost all of the worlds in the original game make an appearance in Chain of Memories, complete with the same general story lines, only broken up into bite-sized retellings. A few new elements are introduced, such as the Unknown (the black-cloaked figures) but it’s still up in the air as to if these details will be reintroduced in Kingdom Hearts 2.

In addition to the Disney cast, several Final Fantasy characters also make cameos.

At its heart, Chain of Memories is still an action RPG. You’re free to travel to each world whenever you want, with each floor of the castle representing a different world. Once in a world, you have to follow a specific layout, but you control what is in the world. Certain card combinations unseal each locked door. Most doors can be unlocked by a card with a certain number (or combination), but others require special story cards. The card type you choose will also determine whether you’ll face a room full of Heartless or a room with treasure. A few rare cards will even reward you with special treasures if you’re lucky enough to find them. Using story cards open up rooms that push the story along.


Difficulty:

One of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories' more difficult aspects is getting the hang of the card-based combat system. The system seems easy at first glance, but can become a source of frustration for those who don’t want to learn the subtle nuances. Failing to plan out your deck to fit the situation card can come back and sting you hard. At the same time, “card mashing” through the system (which is the equivalent of button mashing in a fighting game) will only add misery.

Any difficulty the game might present isn’t completely due to understanding of the combat system. Some boss encounters are pretty hard and can pull off moves that, in some circles, would be described as cheap. In addition, battle conditions that would work in a strict hack-and-slash RPG don’t fit the game’s system well. This leads to more frustration. On the plus side, frustrating (and cheap) moments are limited.


Game Mechanics:

A major difference this time around is that Sora is alone in a majority of his battles. After coming across Heartless in the game world, the action switches to a battle area. Here, both Sora and his foes can freely move about the area and attack in real-time. While on the map screen, Sora can bash enemies with his Keyblade, stunning foes on the battle area for a few seconds.

Battles are carried out using a CCG-styled system. The system is surprisingly fast-paced, which should come as good news for fans who detest the slow pacing of most card games. At the start of each battle, Sora is dealt a hand of cards which can be cycled by pressing the shoulder buttons. Each card relates to battle actions such as a Keyblade (attack), spell, item, or summon. Cards can be played as single actions or in combination, which unlock combos or special attacks (called Sleights). Casting spells in combination will result in more powerful spells (Firaga, Blizzaga...)

Each card also has a number on it, ranging from 0 to 9. These numbers indicate how strong the card is in relation to the cards that your opponent can play. Higher numbers beat lower numbers, with “0” acting as a wild card that beats anything. Numbers also determine which Sleights are used in battle.

Even though the combat system can get a little complicated and the story isn’t as cohesive, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is still well worth a play through, at least for fans of the series. The game should hold over fans until Kingdom Hearts 2. Revisiting areas from the first does detract from the experience, but those who stick with the game until the end will have a nice surprise waiting for them.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated