Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories - Staff Review  

Let's Forget Things Faster!
by Alex Reimer

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20-40 Hours
+ Interesting Card Battle System
+ Good music, albeit recycled
+ Adjustable difficulty
+ Castle Oblivion's storyline
- Frequent, abridged Disney segments
- Boring maps
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   When announced, Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix+ boasted quite the deal for Japanese gamers. Besides numerous additions towards the main game, Final Mix+ came with a second disc containing a PlayStation 2 remake of the Game Boy Advance game, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. Unfortunately, neither updated game was announced for western release, until 2008 when Square Enix brought over one more PS2 game: Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories. The rest of Final Mix+ stayed in Japan, though. Final Mix+ stayed in Japan, but Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories received a localization.

   After the events of Kingdom Hearts, Sora, Donald, and Goofy continue their quest to find their lost friends, Riku and King Mickey. While on the road, the trio discover the ominous Castle Oblivion. As the heroes progress through each floor of the castle, more and more memories fade away, but new memories form in the chaotic twists and turns. The story of Re: Chain of Memories features very few changes from the original GBA version, except for some minor censorship (characters do not cuss in this version, and deaths are occasionally changed). Besides the minor changes, players of the original version will only be treated to added voice acting and enhanced visuals for major story segments. With these enhancements, the main story plays to be fairly interesting. The eccentric villains add some flavor to the script, and the memory loss plot maintains momentum as each scene unravels more and more of the truth.

   Unfortunately, copious filler ruins a lot of the story. While each floor begins and ends with interesting cutscenes, the majority of the game focuses on Sora and friends re-exploring each world from the original Kingdom Hearts. The Disney filler stories are quick, but they are still very boring and repetitive and do little justice for the original source material. The Disney stories follow different paths than Kingdom Hearts telling or the original movies, and the terrible quality of the condensed plots seem tacked on with absolutely no purpose. Players choose the order they visit the different worlds, but regardless, the disjointed filler has no bearing on the main plot. As fun as the main storyline can be, the majority of the dialogue is fairly insipid fluff consuming time until the next major event occurs.

Memory loss makes Sora depressed. Memory loss makes Sora depressed.

   In between the story segments, Sora traverses the numerous floors of the castle alone, armed with only a deck of cards. Unlike the original Kingdom Hearts, Re: Chain of Memories gives players a card battle system to slaughter countless Heartless. From keyblades to magic and items, everything in Sora's arsenal is a card. Every card has a value between 0 and 9. Both Sora and his foes use the numbered cards to attack. Higher numbered cards trump lower numbered cards, but zeros can trump anything if played last, though they can be trumped by any card if played too early. A lot of work goes into constructing the "right" deck, as players must balance power with utility. Once all of the cards are used up, the deck must be redrawn, which takes time and leaves Sora open to heavy damage. A series of two or three cards can be stringed together to deliver stronger attacks or special combos; however, the first card will be lost for the rest of the battle. Careless spamming of special attacks can lead to a quick defeat, though cunning players can still devise a deck built around special attacks.

   The learning curve for Re:Chain of Memories might surprise fans of Kingdom Hearts and its numbered sequel. To cope with the new difficulty presented by the fast-paced card battle system, Re: Chain of Memories offers a Beginners Mode not present in the original GBA release. Those ready for a real challenge can also accept the fairly brutal Proud Mode. The varying difficulties allow for Kingdom Hearts fans of all ages to enjoy the game and its unique system.

   Each floor of Castle Oblivion contains a blank map. Each room must be "created" by one of the cards Sora collects from various foes. The cards determine the room's size and number of Heartless, and many cards carry special features that add extra bonuses and rewards. Once a room is created, players can always exit and recreate the room with a different card. Rooms with Heartless provide ample amounts of experience, as Sora engages different groups of Heartless at a time. In each room, Sora can jump and slash at objects and Heartless, and, if players time their slash just right, Heartless will begin battle paralyzed. Other rooms contain treasure, save points, and shops to buy new and rarer cards. While the platforming elements are fairly primitive, they do allow for some mildly fun exploration of the different rooms. Unfortunately, the rooms themselves are highly repetitive in design.

Now Riku has betrayed himself! Now Riku has betrayed himself!

   The aesthetics for Re: Chain of Memory are fairly solid, if a tad recycled. Yoko Shimomura's beautiful score from the original Kingdom Hearts makes up a large portion of the game's music, but there are new pieces amongst the old. A real new treat for this PS2 port is the addition of voice acting, but the only scenes with voice acting are in between floors. Thus, don't expect to hear any Disney characters besides Sora's immediate allies. Most of the voice actors from the other games return to reprise their roles, but the post-pubescent voice of Sora from Kingdom Hearts II feels a bit odd coming from the slightly younger Sora seen in Re: Chain of Memories. Overall, the acting is mostly top-notch, but there is occasional awkwardness in the delivery of dialogue. Random pauses occur at times, as if the voice actors are stopping to turn the page of the script. While these pauses are present in the lip movements, the pauses still feel off. Fortunately, this tiny phenomenon is mostly present in the middle portion of the game, so the finale is spared from awkwardly voiced dialogue.

   Unfortunately, the graphics engine has not aged as smoothly. Because Re: Chain of Memories recycles many of the environments of the original, the graphics of the original are also reused. While still better than many games on the PS2, the 2002 engine shows some age when compared to the power of Kingdom Hearts II and the many games since. The dull and repetitive environments do not help either. In the end, Castle Oblivion is colorful, but the empty halls suffer from a lack of character.

   Overall, the main quest of Re: Chain of Memories should take just over twenty hours. However, the game does not end with Sora. Completing the game once unlocks an additional post-game storyline where players control Riku. Like Sora, Riku's storyline involves reliving the events of Kingdom Hearts while facing the masters of Castle Oblivion. Unlike Sora though, Riku cannot customize his card deck, making Riku's story far more challenging than Sora's. For the most part, Riku's quest is optional and not mandatory to understand the series' overarching plot, but fans will likely appreciate the extra dozen or so hours of gameplay, as will gamers in need of more challenges.

   At the end of the day, Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories delivers the experience of the GBA version in whole. The cosmetic upgrades and 3D camera make the game look, sound, and play more like the other Kingdom Hearts games. The new difficulties make the title more accessible while maintaining some of the hardcore challenge. Unfortunately, at its core, Re: Chain of Memories recycles too much from the original Kingdom Hearts. Thankfully, the card battle system and main story salvages the game as a whole. Fans that missed out on the first side-story of the series should definitely check out Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories.

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