Being insanely gaga over anything Disney related, I was extremely excited to learn of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the GBA. Having no PlayStation 2, I had never played Kingdom Hearts but was always strangely intrigued by the plot involving so many endearing Disney characters.
Because the story of Kingdom Hearts: COM is directly tied to the original, the plot was somewhat difficult to understand at the beginning of the game. What unfolds is this: Sora, Goofy, and Donald are searching for King Mickey when a mysterious stranger leads them to Castle Oblivion. The rules of how things work in the castle are far different as you will learn in the quest. Sora’s memories are directly tied to what our hero will run into while exploring the castle. The storytelling in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is pulled off nicely, although there is a fair amount of reading involved.
As Sora explores the castle, the player will run into familiar faces. However, Sora’s memory has been shattered as he cannot remember any of them. At first this may seem confusing but once the story begins to unfold it’ll be more in context. However, if you have no prior Kingdom Hearts experience, retain patience because the story will be rewarding. It is unfortunate to think that SquareEnix assumes that Chain of Memories players have played the first KH on PS2. The game could have benefited with a summary of scrolling text at the beginning of the game to explain the tale of the first PS2 game. But reading the Kingdom Hearts website or even the instruction booklet can get any player up to speed.
When you are roaming through the castle looking for friends, Sora encounters the evil Heartless. Sora is then transported to a battle arena to take on his enemy. Unlike the PS2 game, CoM uses a strange card based battle system. Cards used in battle include: attack, magic, friend, item and enemies. Attack cards allow Sora to swing the keyblade to attack. Magic cards are used to summon characters or to cast magic. Friend cards bring Sora’s buddies into the battle. Item cards are different types of objects that are available to Sora. Enemy cards produce different effects that last during the whole battle.
Players can stack up to three cards to play at one time. The left or right shoulder buttons are used to sort and select the type of cards. The values of the cards are then added together. Combat is performed in real time much like any other action game, expect the rules of the card system stand in the way. Getting used to this unique system will take time.
In the option menu, up to three decks can be stacked in any way. Reloading cards after depletion is done by pressing the “A” button, however, each refill during a battle takes a little longer. The card system is different and, at times, awkward. In the heat of a battle it feels odd to shuffle, stack or reload cards to try and defeat the Heartless. The good news is the longer you play, the easier it gets to manage your cards and playing strategy.
Cards are also used to summon help from friends. Call Aladdin, Goofy or others to fight alongside for a brief amount of time. Not only are cards used in battle, but they are used to open doors as well as perform other basic functions. Unfortunately, using cards to unlock doors is a little cumbersome. Since each door has a number, it can only be unlocked with a card of a higher number. Example: a door with a number 3 can be unlocked with a card with number 4 or higher. However, the player might have to participate in battles in hopes of finding a high enough card. This can make battle seemed washed out and repetitive. Luckily, the designers seemed to remedy this by adding the Moogle Shop where cards can be bought or sold.
Since this is an RPG, once you earn so many experience points, Sora gains a level. You can choose from increasing Sora’s hit points, card points, or acquiring a learnable sleight. Leveling up is easily done and simplistic. Feeling slightly unfulfilled, the leveling up process could have benefited from a little more depth expanding the statistics a little more. When choosing the option for upgrading sleights, it doesn’t seem clear as to which skill is improving. As it turns out, Sora can only gain a sleight with a direct correlation to his level. Building simple hit and card points would have made it much easier on the player.
Much like any other Final Fantasy game, CoM has a fantastic musical score. Many of the game’s tunes are remixes from the PS2 game including small samples of voice work from characters. Plus, everything sounds great coming from the GBA.
Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories has some killer graphics. The character sprites are amazingly detailed and well animated. The backgrounds display a wonderful amount of detail complete with lighting and shadowing tricks. However, the game’s best use of animation comes packaged in a form of Full Motion Video. Much like the movies game paks Majesco has been releasing, SquareEnix actually adding full 3D video into many segments of this game. Further, the compression rate is much higher than anything from Majesco. This could possibly be because there is no voice work or other complex audio to compress at the same time the video plays. Either way, adding these video clips is one of the best uses of graphics in the history of the GameBoy Advance and they will be appreciated by any player of the game. Nice job SquareEnix!
There’s a treat for those who persevere until the end. Finishing the game is just half the battle because now players have access to a special game mode called Reverse/Rebirth. In this mode the Kingdom Hearts tale takes on a totally different point of view, with the possibility of unlocking even more secrets on the journey.
Fans of the PS2 game will enjoy their time with CoM. However, newcomers to the series may feel a little lost as the game’s story does not update the player accordingly. The lack of a summary screen will leave players feeling lost. Also, the card battle system is a little wonky, but will grow on players over time. Using a card for everything in the game (battle, opening doors, maps) seems like a little bit of overkill. Plus, the level up system will leave players scratching their heads. On the other hand, this game should be played for the graphics alone. The video segments and well detailed sprites are wonderful on the eyes. The music balances out the game with its pleasantly remixed tunes. If you can get passed the awkward card system, Chain of Memories is not such a bad game.