This was not something I planned to do a throwback on. At least, I didn’t play it with the expectation of doing a review on it. Despite its flaws, the Kingdom Hearts series is one of my favorite video game franchises of all time. Every once in a while I get the crazed urge to play through the entire series. This is easier than ever with 1.5+2.5 remaster for the PS4. But that’s not what this review is about.
Right now I’m about halfway through my binge of the series. And I felt compelled to talk about Chain of Memories for a bit. My opinion of the game has changed quite significantly over the years and this also seems like a good opportunity to rant. In the past, my throwback reviews contain only my thoughts when replaying it. However, I think it might benefit if I take a different approach: looking at how I felt back then and comparing it to now.
For those who don’t know much about Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (and I don’t blame you if you don’t, the series is kind of all over the place), it is a game that takes place after Kingdom Hearts 1 and bridges the gap between the first and second game. But upon release most people (myself included) assumed it was a spin-off title with nothing to do with the plot. If you were confused why Sora woke up from a long nap at the beginning of KH 2 it’s because you didn’t play this.
After the events of Kingdom Hearts 1 Sora, Donald, and Goofy find themselves in front of a mysterious castle. As always, throwing caution to the wind, they enter. Almost immediately a man wearing a black coat confronts them. He informs the trio they are in Castle Oblivion and the moment they stepped foot into it, they lost every ability and spell they ever knew. Now they must abide by the rules of the castle. Cards control the castle, in combat, creating rooms, creating worlds, etc.
Sora and the gang discover that they are losing their memories as they proceed deeper into Castle Oblivion. And being the geniuses they are, they keep going. Because… I don’t know. But as Sora’s memories clear out from his mind, he starts remembering someone else. A girl he forgot about that lived on the islands he grew up on. Upon learning the men in black coats have captured and imprisoned her in the castle, Sora resolves to save her. Even if he forgets everything in his pursuit.
Though this game originally released on GBA it was remade for the PS2 and later remastered for PS3 and PS4. While some mechanics from the 2.5D plane did not translate as well into 3D I preferred the PlayStation adaptions. So the review and screenshots will mostly focus on that.
What I thought the first time:
I first played the original GBA game a little before the release of KH 2 in early 2006. Combat is very different from other titles, and I didn’t care for it much right away. The game requires you to build a deck with the cards you find. It will mostly consist of attack cards with maybe a few spells and items here and there. So you’ll be swinging the keyblade around according to the cards you play.
It takes a little while to get the hang of it, but once I understood the basics I actually began to like it. You can also combine cards together to preform something called sleights. Sleights are familiar special attacks like Ars Arcanum, Sonic Blade, and Strike Raid. If you manage to pull these off you will do massive damage to all your foes. Beating enemies makes them drop experience which lets you level up HP, deck capacity, or learn a new sleight.
One complaint I had at the time that I maintain concerns card values. Every card has its own value (0-9). If you play a card at the same time an opponent does, the card with the lower value breaks and the higher value card plays. In other words your combos can be easily interrupted if the enemy plays a high enough card. It also leaves you very vulnerable to attacks. This is beyond frustrating. If you don’t have high enough value cards then you might struggle just to kill a weak enemy. Also higher value cards take up more of your deck capacity. So it is necessary to level that up a lot or you won’t be able to use many cards.
I’m realizing this is kind of confusing but… High value= good. Low value= nearly useless. But building a good deck of cards to beat tough enemies takes some strategy, which is why it appealed to me.
The story isn’t bad. While the Disney worlds you visit have basic recycled plots, the actual plot points that occur outside those are interesting and do matter in the Kingdom Hearts universe. The only thing the Disney plots add are some foreshadowing of what is happening to Sora and the party. Once you’ve played through them once you can probably skip all the scenes in Disney worlds and miss out on literally nothing.
What I think now:
I’ll just jump straight into it. I’m surprised at how much my opinion changed in my most recent playthru. While I used to enjoy crushing enemies with my carefully constructed deck, it felt more like a chore for this playthru. You’ll be using the same cards and sleights for battles most of the time so battles become tedious and repetitive. Even if you are using an awesome move, it will lose its charm the 10th time. And you’ll probably be seeing it 50 times.
To be fair, I played on the hardest difficulty which almost always requires more grinding. I grew bored dealing with the same fights in the same ways multiple times. Bosses were a nice break from the monotony, but after I finished them off, it was back to slogging through each world. And the worlds only get larger as you go on.
Enemies breaking your cards are still very annoying. Especially if you don’t have cards that are of a value equal or higher. I don’t know what more to say about this aspect. An enemy interrupting your combo is always annoying, but it is especially annoying that an enemy on the other side of the room can interrupt your chain on a completely different enemy. And you get punished for it. On a small side note the enemies drop collectable experience points rather than you immediately gaining exp. It is very possible to miss out on exp because you don’t notice where it falls. Small complaint, but something that still needs fixing. I think the combat is the worst out of any Kingdom Hearts game, except for maybe 358/2 Days.
I used to defend this game against dissenters, but now I feel like all of the complaints are perfectly valid. As a game I think it is not too bad. But it is a very weak Kingdom Hearts game. The story, while decent, is one of the weakest in the Kingdom Hearts series and its combat is sub-par.
It’s a shame that my opinion of the game has fallen pretty far from where it was. Maybe getting older makes me jaded. Maybe my opinions are more critical the more reviews I do. I used to really like this game, but after my most recent venture with it… I’m unsure if I ever want to return. I think any KH fan should play it at least once along with the second story that unlocks after you beat the game. But if you have no desire to play it again, I might support that decision.