Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Game title: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories
Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Gameboy Advance
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release date: December 07, 2004
Overall rating: 8.5/10
The first Kingdom Hearts seemed to be universally loved by most people. It recieved a seemingly infinite amount of praise from reviewers and fans alike. This praise is, in my opinion, largely undeserved. I had many doubts and fears when heading into Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. While not perfect, the game settled many of my fears reguarding it rather quickly. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a genuinely good role playing game.
Gameplay - 8.5
The firs Kingdom Hearts utilized a very basic action battle system that was very button mashy and did not aid the difficulty problems of the game in any way, shape or form. This was one of my biggest problems with the first game, and one of my biggest fears in CoM.
The battle system in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is nothing like the first one. This time arround, it utilizes a unique card based battle system that introduces both strategy and challenge to the game, which are two things that the game desperastely needed. The new system is an interesting and fun to play take on the action battle system, and a huge step up for the series as a whole.
The system might seem complex, and alot to take in when it is first introduced to you at the begining of the game and, indeed, the tutorial for it is not the best I have ever played through, but it is actually very simple. All cards have a number on them, ranting from 0 to 9. These represent the card's chance of success when used. The higher the number on your card, the lower the chance of your opponent blocking it. This means that if you play a 5 card, and your opponent plays a 4 card, your card goes through, blocking his. It also works the other day. If your opponent plays a 6 card, and you play a 3 card, his attack will go through. 0 cards are special. They will always either succeed or fail, depending on when you play them. If you play them before your opponent plays his card, your card gets blocked. If you play your 0 card after he plays a card, it will always block your opponents attack, allowing your attack.
There are several kinds of cards. The most common type of card is the attack card. These are used to swing your keyblade at the enemy. There are also magic cards that are used to cast magic, such as fire and ice. Summon cards allow you to call allies to the battle field to use a special attack. Enemy cards cause some type of effect on the battle. Some of them might make your cards unblockable for a certain number of plays, while others effect reloading your deck. There are quite a few other types of cards for you to check out as you progress through the game. Mix and match them to build the best deck. It is fun to experiment with deck building in this game.
There is one other major aspect to the gameplay in this game known as Sleights. Sleights are special moves your character can pull off. In a sense, they are this games versions of Quickenings or Limit Breaks. A quickening is done by storing 3 cards and unleashing them for a deadly move on your enemy. They can be blocked with zero cards, but don't fret this fact. It means that boss sleights can be blocked too. Riku, in particular, has one of the cooler sleights in the game. There is one noteworthy one called Dark Aura where he flies across the screen and slashes the enemy multiple times for major damage. The sleight you use depends on what cards you store. They do not come without a price though. One of the cards that is used to do the sleight will not be usable for the rest of the battle. They are a great help in tough situations.
Graphics - 9/10
The graphics in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories are one of it's high points. For a Gameboy Advance game, this looks very, very good. Chain of Memories uses a hand drawn sprite look for it's in game graphics. The majority of the cut scenes are done in this style. Everything is very detailed, and the character models look great and are very well animated. It has that Square Enix polish that we have all come to expect over the years. All of the characters look exactly how you would remember them and precisely how you would picture them in a 2D world. The Kingdom Hearts team did a fantastic job making this game look as good as possible
However, the game is not without a hitch - and it is a major hitch that keeps it from getting a perfect score. This game has severe slowdown at times. The game will slow to a crawl for a second or two when the screen gets crowded. It wouldn't be a big deal, seeing as how slow down is a common problem with games now days, but it happens atleast once every hour. You are guarantueed a period of slowdown atleast once per world you visit. It happens way too often to be excusable, and it puts a dent in the armor of what woud have been a perfect score for this game's graphics.
Finally,. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has a few fully 3D rendered cut scenes. As you might imagine, it does not compare to the PS2's 3D, but it is still cool to see. The 3D cut scenes are used in moments that would, otherwise, be tough to do in 2D, and they appear very sparingly. They are a very nice touch though. It is more than I thought the Gameboy Advance capable of. Infact, the game starts out with a nice and fairly lengthy full motion video, and does not go into 2D pretty much until the tutorial. Very nice, SE.
Sound - 7.5/10
This is where the game falters and fails to shine in any way. The battle sounds and voice clips are nice, but the music is highly forgettable or so repeptitive that it is almost maddening. Fans of the first game and the Disney movies know what to expect in the different worlds. You get short clips of music that came out of the movies, which is not a bad idea. The problem lies in the fact that the clips are all about 1 minute long, and you shall be listening to them for an hour or more that you spend in each world. Hearing the same clip over and over for an hour or more that you spend in each world can be just a little maddening with how repetitive it is.
This game also comes with a collection of new tunes, alot of which are very dark sounding. IT is always nice to hear new music, instead of hearing the same thing over and over again, but many of the new tunes are just plain forgettable. There are a few tunes that are decent, such as the Castle Oblivion theme, but, overall, they are not things that you will remember or have stuck in your head after you turn of the GBA. For fans of the song, Simple and Clean is present and accounted for.
Story - 8.5/10
One of my other major problems with the first Kingdom Hearts was how the story was told. It's pacing was just...not good. The game took long breaks from the main story. The story itself was not bad, but it didn't ever develope much because the game never spent any time on it. I am happy to report that this problem has been fixed. Although this is a shorter game than the first, it spends alot more time focusing on the main story of the series, and it paces it evenly. Bits and pieces of the story are given out before, after and sometimes during each world.
Chain of Memories picks up exactly where the first Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Donald and Goofy have decided to continue their journey by searching for King Mickey and Riku. While resting one night, Sora gets visited by the stranger in the black hood again. He tells him that ahead is something that he needs, but, to obtain it, he will loose something important. When Sora, Donald and Goofy follow him, they wind up at Castle Oblivion, home of the mysterious group of black robe wearing Organization XIII. Sora is handed a deck of cards, and told he must travel through the castle alone. Donald and Goofy disappear, only to rejoin you when called upon by a summon card. Sora must use the world cards to visit places from his past. Each world is created from his memories, which are stored in the card. The first world he visits is Traverse Town. Things take off from there.
Although fairly straight forward, the story for Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has a few good plot twists and is fairly original. It introduces atleast 2 great characters to the series in Namine and Axel. It was a pleasent surprise and an overall joy to play through this story. Although it is not particularly well scripted, it is fairly well told and paced, and it brings some cool new things to the table for the Kingdom Hearts series, including what is, possibly, the coolest plot device in the series. the secret Organization XIII.
Replay value - 7.5/10
This game has a bit of extra life in that, after you beat it, it has a second story to tell. In Reverse Rebirth, you take control of Riku, who has lost his way, fallen into a deep slumber and is woken up by a strange, but familiar voice inside Castle Oblivion. He travels is given a deck of cards, which he uses to travel through the different worlds backwards, in search of Mickey. He cannot build his own deck, but he has Dark Riku mode, which makes him temporarily more powerful. It is not as long as the first story, but it is nice to play as someone besides Sora. After playing through Reverse Rebirth, chances are fairly good that you are done with this game.
Final Thoughts -
Kingdom Heart: Chain of Memories is a very good game that has a place in ever Gameboy Advance library. It's new battle system works very well, and is alot of fun to experiment with. Building decks can be fun, and the opportunity to play as Riku is very nice. Graphically, it a wonderful looking game, but slowdown hinders it. The story is a good one and is a nice extension on the original, picking up exactly where the first one left off. The sound could be better, though
Gameplay - 8.5/10
The game plays well, and the new card system introduces much needed strategy and challenge
Graphics - 9/10
Slowdown hinders and otherwise perfect score
Sound - 7.5/10
Repetitive and forgettable music with a few memorable songs. Battle sounds and voice clips are great
Story - 8.5/10
Fairly straight forward, but it has some good plot twists
Replay Value - 7.5/10
Reverse Rebirth is nice. Otherwise, it is one and you're done.