Reviews: Kingdom Hearts Chain Of Memories

Fun Is in the Cards

The first of the perpetual snark target that is the Kingdom Hearts series' penchant for multi-platform spin-offs (even with the HD ReMIXes), Chain of Memories bridges the gap between the first and second games in the series. But it shares little in common with either, or indeed, the rest of the series, as far as gameplay is concerned, taking a serious risk with a battle system ruled entirely by cards with associated numbers. Not only that, how you progress through the game's worlds is based on cards! And let's not forget Larxene, who's a bit of a card herself...! Cards, cards, everywhere... but don't look so discouraged there, Woody, you contrived memetic reference you!

The risk pays off and then some. Though not traditionally mastered before some 4-5 hours of playtime has passed, for me personally Chain of Memories has possibly the most addictive gameplay of the KH-quels. There are enough effective and interesting ways to build your command decks to stave off Complacent Gaming Syndrome (until the time comes for the wholly tedious grind to LV 99, of course) and utilize your cards to maximum effect. If you, ahem, play your cards right (okay, I'll slow down with the card puns already, oy vey!), you can get yourself a Game Breaker or two well before playtime hits double digits. You can tailor your playstyle exactly how you like it... and even if you feel a bit limited in your choices at times, you never know when a shiny new card variety, brimming with Heartless-burninating possibilities, will come your way.

The plot convolutions aren't too bad yet; in fact, the story features some emotional beats and situations that rank among the best and most focused in the mythos. I much prefer this game's group of black-cloaked bad guys to the ones features in II. They're better at balancing out menacing threat with enjoyable hamminess and, you know, actual freakin' personalities. A little more true to established, familiar Disney characterizations. It's a shame they couldn't keep them around...

Chain has a huge glass jaw, however; repetition, even by series standards. Not only does it shamelessly reuse worlds and characters from the original game to often underwhelming effect, but the game's Second Quest (kind of) is a monotonous afterthought that reeks of Fake Longevity. They do manage to get some good development and characters in there (and a change of player character is certainly refreshing) but I'd already grown a bit tired of the repetition in the normal quest. It doesn't help that your decks aren't customizable in this mode, either.

Oh, and when it comes down to it, the remake (although a more KH-feeling game) doesn't necessarily cancel out the GBA original. They both play basically the same, but the GBA version features sprite portraits chock full of character that makes the game much more engaging than the bland facial animation of the remake, voice acting bedamned.

Pick a card, any card.....

Kingdom Hearts Chain Of Memories is the second installment to what I like to call the original Kingdom Hearts trilogy. It was originally released on the Gameboy Advance and later remade for the PS2. Serving as the bridge between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, it's a surprisingly great game in it's own right.

The story is 50% rehash of elements from the first KH, altered to fit the setting (and feeling infinitely less consequential as well), 50% new, concering Sora, Donald, and Goofy having to contend with a mysterious castle, a memory-erasing girl, and the shadowy organization that controls it all. What's good here is very good. The Mind Rape-induced Character Development Sora receives is intriguing, the comapnionship between him, Donald, and Goofy (and Jiminy this time around) is as well portrayed as before, and the four central villains (Axel, Larxene, Vexen, and Marluxia) are all cool, with great interplay with one another and a dark storyline stemming from their diabolical actions.

However, this game also marks the beginning where, with more freedom as a director, Tetsuya Nomura plants the seeds of the kudzu plant. All the talk of memories being something within the heart is utterly bewildering, and it only gets more confusing in the next game. And the bonus Riku mode is very poorly written, with Riku striving for Character Development but getting served what creates his Character Derailment instead, two bland Organization members (Lexaeus and Zexion), "darkness" being spammed throughout the script as if Ansem had written it, and a very poorly-delivered broken Family Unfriendly Aesop that pisses me off.

Also are concern is the gameplay, which is based around a card-based system for some reason or other. Here, you use cards to fight and to basically create your own dungeons, which take the appearance of a world from Sora's memories and get suitably longer as the game goes on. It's not a bad system, but I can't help but wonder whether or not it was neccessary, and if a different system would have been better. It certainly wouldn't have turned off so many players, who sadly skipped this game and missed out on not only an essential bridge to KH2, but, overall, a good and solid gaming experience, and one that I gladly recommend.
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