Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
Sorry for the quietness around here. It’s been a rather busy last couple of weeks, and it’ll only get busier before the month is over. I’ll still be posting my reviews every week, including this week’s review of Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (hope you took advantage of that Delicious Deal I posted way back).
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also been contributing news to BeefJack, which has been archived here. I’ve also got two more reviews on the way.
So again, sorry for not updating with more “fun” posts, but I promise to get back into the swing of things before too long. I promised a Street Fighter related post in celebration of the fourth game’s release, and I mean to keep that promise.
Until then, here’s Chain of Memories, reviewed for The Armchair Empire. Enjoy.
Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories
When a commercially successful Square Enix title makes its way to North American shores, it doesn’t take too long for the RPG giant to re-release that same game back to Japanese consumers with an “International” edition, containing even more extra content to make recent NA buyers jealous.
American gamers were especially envious of Square Enix’s re-release of Kingdom Hearts II, bearing the name of Final Mix Plus; Not only did this version of the world’s most popular fanfiction crossover contain numerous additional cutscenes and bosses, but it even featured an entire game in an extra disc: A complete remake of the GBA handheld sidestory, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.
In a rare moment of generosity, however, Square Enix has decided to release their extra content for NA gamers, although curiously omitting the reworked Kingdom Hearts II in favor of selling Re: Chain of Memories on its own. Is it worth paying the equivalent of a Greatest Hits title for only half the content that Japanese gamers received?
Serving as a bridging point between Kingdom Hearts I and II, Chain of Memories featured Sora, Donald and Goofy coming across a mysterious castle owned by the even more mysterious Oganization XIII. Upon entering the castle, Sora is warned that “to lose is to find, and to find is to lose”; for each floor scaled, Sora and company lose more and more of their memories and experiences during the first game while falling closer to the Organization’s trap.
The story remains largely unchanged from the original GBA version, but is nonetheless crucial to understanding the deeper mysteries of Kingdom Hearts II. Another unchanged element is the gameplay, which is based entirely around a new card-based system; Sora must now fight each Heartless encounter, using a stack of cards numbered 0 to 9 to perform every action from keyblade swinging to magic casting. The enemies follow this new system as well, and the key to victory is to master the “Card Break” feature, where the highest card number overlaps an opposing card of lower value. 0 cards are especially crucial to proper strategizing as it can overwrite any card placed before it, but can also be nullified by any card placed afterwards. Three cards can also be stacked at once to add up its numbers, proving especially useful to unleash three attacks without interruption (unless, again, the enemy uses a 0 card) or to unleash an exclusive special move for extra damage.
It isn’t just the battle system that’s gotten card crazy, though. Each area features several rooms that must be opened with a Map Card, each card offering a different effect for the room such as decreasing the number of enemies, causing extra magic with magic cards, a higher chance for bonuses and treasure, and so on.
The card handling was arguably difficult to manage on a handheld system, but on a console it proves to be a much better fit; Cycling cards is much easier with the PS2’s (or PS3’s, for those with backwards compatibility) shoulder buttons, and the larger screen keeps the onscreen action from obscuring things as often. Unfortunately, the tradeoff is the removal of the GBA’s quick-save feature, requiring players to save their progress one of two ways: using a card to summon a save point in one of the many dungeon rooms (similar to the ink ribbons from the Resident Evil series), or hoofing it all the way back to the floor entrance. Neither option would be much of a hindrance if it wasn’t for the random placement of story-specific rooms (which must be opened in order) or how the onscreen map still follows the original game’s isometric view, causing some further confusion.
While the gameplay features remain largely unchanged, the visuals have received the most striking overhaul, although most of the assets are carried over from the first Kingdom Hearts. Even so, it’s a testament to the original game’s gorgeous animation and 3D recreation of classic Disney characters and locations. The cutscenes during the castle portions also feature full voice acting with most of the KH actors reprising their roles (although Haley Joel Osment is clearly unable to recreate Sora’s younger voice, and instead sticks to using Sora’s older KHII’s voice on his younger KHI form). Unfortunately, the Disney-centric dungeons only feature recycled voice clips and no new dialog, further establishing the filler nature of the Disney portion of CoM.
While much of the game serves as a recap for anyone who might have missed out on the original Kingdom Hearts, the new story is still engaging enough to traverse through, and the action is still fast and addictive despite the slower-paced RPG adjustments. Whether for first timers or double dippers, Re: Chain of Memories is a worthy addition for fans and newcomers alike, offering a solid 30 hours to complete (and that’s not counting the additional story and character available afterwards).
Improved graphics and controls
Fun, customizable card-based gameplay
Engaging story with solid voice work
Many assets re-used from first KH game (including the camera)
Disney areas offer nothing new
Boss fights often prove frustrating