Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories - Review

Memory, All Alone In The Moonlight
By: Rachel Steiner

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 3
   Interaction 3
   Originality 4
   Story 4
   Music & Sound 3
   Visuals 3
   Challenge Medium to Hard
   Completion Time 24-72 Hours  

Nothing Like the Moonrise Over Halloween Town
Nothing Like the Moonrise Over Halloween Town

   "It would add much to human happiness, if an art could be taught of forgetting all of which the remembrance is at once useless and afflictive ... that the mind might perform its functions without encumbrance, and the past might no longer encroach upon the present."
--Samuel Johnson (The Idler)

   Imagine that you are an unlikely hero. You have traveled through many lands in search of your friends. In the final battle, you watch as one of your childhood friends locks himself inside the door to darkness in order to save the world. You are Sora, and this is the next chapter of your adventure.

   In the beginning of the game, we see where Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are chasing Pluto down a road after seeing a letter with the king's seal on it. Then, with the moon in the sky, Sora wakes up with a start and begins wandering down the path until he comes to a crossroad. A hooded figure appears and says, "Ahead is something you need, but in order to gain it, you must lose something dear." Sora presses onward and we see a pair of hands. These hands are holding a pad and sketching something on it. As we see the pad being set down, one would notice that the drawing is of a castle…Castle Oblivion. Thus starts Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. The intro FMV brings us a Playstation 2 caliber style of animation that is very similar to the original movies in Kingdom Hearts. Although the visuals are slightly pixelized, these graphics have never been used on the Gameboy Advance that I have seen. The backgrounds, though occasionally repetitive, set the mood for each world. Although SquareEnix tried to recreate the music of Kingdom Hearts through MIDIs, some of the magic of the original tunes was lost, also losing a bit of the original mood of each setting.

   The battle system is an integral part of the game. This card-based system uses not just the types of cards but the values associated with them. The values range anywhere from zero to nine. If both you and your enemy play a card at the same time, the card with the higher value wins and "breaks" the other card. This will leave the character with the broken card vulnerable to attacks. There is one catch. The cards with values of zero can be broken if played before any other card, but when played after any card, the zero will win. The zero cards are also the only cards that can break "sleights" or combo moves. Card breaking is key to success. There are three types of cards, which can be identified by their colored borders. Attack cards (red), magic cards (blue), and item cards (green). While most cards can be obtained in a Moogle Shop, there are a few rare cards such as the Mushu summon, that are only available in treasure rooms.

   Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories uses a two-dimensional version of the original Kingdom Hearts where you could move around freely. When each Heartless is defeated, it drops experience balls. When you level up, you have anywhere from two to three choices. The first is an HP upgrade that will increase your maximum HP by 15. The next is a CP, or card point, upgrade, which increases your CP by 25, and occasionally you will get a sleight option that will teach you a new combo move. Each card not only has a type or value; it takes up a certain amount of card points in order to be in your deck. When building a deck, you have to keep in mind not only the types and values of cards, but also whether the card is a "premium" card or not. Premium cards have a shiny surface, and while they use up less card points in your deck, they can only be used once per battle.

Ominous Castle, Isn't It?
Ominous Castle, Isn't It?

   In order to move from room to room within each floor, you must use a deck of cards to create or "synth" a room. The Heartless appear as sprites in the room and move around, many times chasing after you. You can hit them with your keyblade, initiating the battle, to daze the first wave of Heartless. There are some cards that affect the Heartless and their cards in the room. Some will add or subtract value from either your or the Heartless' cards or when you take the first strike, by hitting them with your keyblade outside of battle, this will daze all of the Heartless that appear. The different cards "synth" different rooms such as a Moogle Shop, where you can buy cards or even a save point. Save points are important because without "synthing" a Save Room, you are confined to only two save points in the Castle Hall. There is one when you first reach a floor and another in the final room before exiting the floor. Instead of card breaking, which happens in battle, the zero cards can unlock any door that does not need a card that exactly equals another value.

   The worlds themselves are also synthed. While you only have the choice of about five at a time, you can synth the worlds in almost any order. This creates a non-linear storyline and while the bosses in Castle Oblivion itself remain the same, it adds a little bit of variety and challenge to go against the norm and do things out of the suggested order. Sora finds that he is slowly forgetting his past and because of this, he is reliving the events in Kingdom Hearts. I can say, however, that the experience is not the same as the game's predecessor.

   The story itself is rich. Sora has entered Castle Oblivion after hearing the cryptic message from the hooded figure. He feels the presence of someone familiar and he thinks of Riku, his childhood friend. In Kingdom Hearts, Sora begins his search to find Riku and his other childhood friend, Kairi. Despite reservations from both Donald and Goofy, the companions decide to press on. The story gets more complicated as the game moves along and it moves at a good pace. There are a lot of interesting elements that make you think about what is going on, rather than just skipping through.

   The game difficulty really depends on the person playing. The card decks essentially involve a lot of tweaking and trial and error. There is a way to stack your deck so that it will work for most of the bosses, but many of the cards needed do not appear until later in the game and do not appear in Moogle Shops very often. There are many items in the landscape such as lampposts, cannons, and treasure chests that contain items. Those items are normally cards, green HP balls, or even red Moogle Point balls. Moogle Points are the currency used in Moogle Shops. There are some doors that require specific card types, colors, values, or a combination of the three. Finding these cards can prove to be difficult.

   Upon defeating the final boss some people may think the game is over, however there is another story to experience through Reverse/Rebirth. Reverse/Rebirth is a mode with a different character, abilities, and strategy all its own. On top of that, your save game data for Reverse/Rebirth is in a different save game file than your main storyline so you can go back and search for the treasure room cards that will help complete your card collection and add to your arsenal.

   Whether you just focus on the story elements such as boss fights and cutscenes, or you work on getting all of the extras, such as treasure rooms, (rooms that require a rare gold bordered key card to enter) the playtime can take anywhere from 24-72 hours. You also must understand the strategy behind the card decks and be able to stack your cards so you die no more than once per boss. The more you explore and let your curiosity lead you, then the more powerful you get and the more cards you can add to your collection.

   All in all, I was very pleased with this game. While the battle system takes a while to get used to, once you master the strategy of the cards, you will find yourself flying through the floors on your way to the final boss. The room synthesis also can help you when you need it. Take note of what each card does and also the values and amount of cards you are using. The story shows us a glimpse of what is to come in Kingdom Hearts 2 and also quite a bit of what happened in the past so both veterans and new players alike should be able to play the game without much trouble understanding the storyline. There are many small details such as treasure rooms, premium cards, "White Mushroom," and "Black Fungus" rooms. The game is not perfect, but the shortcomings vary from person to person.

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