Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

Sora has a big adventure crammed into a tiny cart.


The Lowdown

Pros: A large adventure on a tiny platform with an innovative battle system.

Cons: Chain of Memories doesn't provide fans of the first game with much "new" material.

Purchase at Play-Asia

Purchase at Lik-Sang

The instant that you turn Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, hear the familiar theme and then watch the FMV you know this game is something special. You may have read FMV and thought you're kidding a full motion video in a GBA game you're crazy. We're serious the game really does open up with a full out 3D rendered video. The first part of the video is something from the original Kingdom Hearts and the second part of the video has something new. The video shows Sora talking to one of the mysterious black hooded figures. After a brief conversation the focus shifts to a mysterious castle, which Sora and his crew enter. The entire video clocks in at slightly under two minutes. The video quality is a little questionable, too. You don't have the same quality as the original PS2 game, though you can't really expect that. Instead you have PS1 quality full motion video, down sampled. Even though, it's still a technical feat to have it in the game and is defiantly cool to watch.

Sora, Donald and Goofy enter the ominous castle in search of King Mickey. Soon after they enter they see the robed figure. Donald attempts to cast fire, but he can't remember how to. Goofy stands around bewildered as the "unknown" tells Sora that all of their memories have been erased. He throws Sora a deck of cards and tells him that their fragmented memories can be found within the castle. Sora rushes off to attack and you're given instructions on how to battle with the new card system.

The new battle system is an innovative mix that's one half action RPG and one half card battling. At the start of each battle you're given a 15 cards out of your deck to play with. The keyblade cards represent Sora's basic attack, the cards that look like spells are magic cards and cards that have the face of a character are summons. If you want to play the game like an action RPG, you can up until a point. You can mash the A button and keep using whatever card appears next. However, this really wont get you far and you'll need to learn how to use the system. Each card has a number next to it, which represents the card's strength. Enemy attack cards also have a number on the card. So let's take one of Sora's attack cards that has a value of five and enemy attack card that has a value of three. Since five is greater than three Sora's attack will cause a card break, which means the enemy attack is negated and Sora gets to strike. You can be tactful and wait for an enemy attack then counter with a higher card by rotating through your deck. If you choose to just randomly throw out cards to attack enemies you'll run out of cards fast and you'll have to regenerate your deck. Regeneration takes a few seconds and Sora will be left vulnerable without the ability to attack or counter. This time around Sora will also get less cards, so you'll have to be more careful on how you use your attacks.

Another tactic to use is to combined cards. To do this you'll select three cards by pressing the L+R buttons at the same time. Once you have three cards lined up press the L+R buttons and Sora will unleash a combo attack. There are a couple of benefits to doing a combo attack. First of all the value of all the cards are added up, which means you'll be able to card break many attacks. In fact bosses use their own card combos and you can only stop them with a combo of your own. Sora can also do special moves when using a combo. Instead of doing three slashes with the keyblade, Sora can spin around to the other side of the screen or do special attacks like "Ragnarok" if you select the right combination. Something else interesting in the game is the summon option. In the beginning of some battles a card will fly around with Donald or Goofy's face. Pick this up and you'll be able to call one of your buddies to your aid. Donald can appear to cast blizzard, thunder or heal Sora. When you call Goofy he'll run up and rush the on screen enemies. Sora will also be able to pick up cards so he can summon Simba, Jack, the Genie, and even Cloud. Summon cards can also be broken so you can't just throw them at will. You'll need to be just as tactful using them as you are with your regular attacks.

Building your deck for battle is something that you'll want to spend some time doing. Sora's deck can hold up to 99 cards, but your CP (card points) limit what you can add to your deck. Each card has a different CP value, cards with a higher attack value like a 6 or 7 take up more CP than a card with a value of 2 or 1. The type of card also affects how much CP you'll use by adding it to your deck. If you want to build a deck with a few seven cards, you can. Or you can build a deck with a bunch of low cards and plan to do combos for the whole battle. If you're really tactful you can build a deck with groups of special combo moves. By the end of the game you can even build a deck completely of summon cards or a deck full of magic cards. Although, a balanced deck seems to be the way to go for most battles. Sora can make up to three different decks, but he can only equip one of them at a time. When you level up Sora will be given three choices. One of them gives Sora more CP, which will allow him to put more cards in his deck. Instead of picking CP you can choose to increase Sora's hit points or learn a new combo move.

While you're doing all of your card selecting and attacking the battle will be going on in real time. The relentless heartless will be attacking you with everything they got. So, Sora won't be able to just stand in once place. On top of dodging attacks Sora will need to run around to collect tiny blue spheres, that give him experience points. All of the moving, while selecting does take sometime to get used to. Especially when Sora is surrounded by five or six heartless at one time. Because when the game places more than three heartless at one time you begin to get in game slowdown. Slowdown makes combat frustrating when you're trying to do a jump attack or when you're about to unleash a combo. The problem could have been solved by just not having as many on screen heartless.

When you're not battling you're walking around on a small screen. You can walk around the room and bonk boxes with your keyblade. Some boxes will drop extra cards and other ones will release green balls that can recover your life. Sora can also hit oncoming enemies over the head. Doing this will stun all the of the enemies when Sora enters the battle, giving him an advantage. To leave the room and enter the next one you'll need to use cards to unlock the doors. Most doors only require a basic card that you can obtain in random battles. When you select the card for the next area you change the layout of the room and the amount of enemies that are around. If you don't want to fight you can make a room with zero heartless or if you're aching to battle you can make a room packed with them. The system is sort of like a simplified make your own world. Other doors don't give you options, particularly ones that you need to pass to progress the story. Blue heart cards normally lead to cutscenes where you'll see familiar characters like Squall (Leon), Jack Skellington, Hades, Aeris and Aladdin. In fact the game boasts that over one hundred Disney and Final Fantasy characters are in the game. Most of the characters are ones that you've already seen in the first game. This isn't too surprising because in many ways Chain of Memories is a retelling of the original story.

Throughout your journey you'll visit familiar locations from the first game that include Traverse Town, Agrabah, Olympus Coliseum, Monstro, Halloween Town, and Wonderland. After you complete Traverse Town and beat the huge guard armor boss you can select which world you want to go to in any order. Each world is packed with a new set of enemies and characters to visit. For instance you'll be fighting the typical shadow heartless and floating heartless in Traverse Town. While in the coliseum you'll be battling against the monkey heartless and in Agrabah you'll be fighting the large firebreathing heartless. Having different enemies in every area gives the combat a good amount of variety.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is easily one of the best looking games to use the Game Boy Advance hardware. The backgrounds are full of detail. Halloween Town is a purplish colored world, filled with pumpkins and dim lights. While the crazy world of Wonderland is packed with bright colors and tons of vegetation. Each world manages to capture the style of the Disney movie it's supposed to represent. All of the heartless look really great. You can defiantly see their resemblance to their PS2 counterparts. Sora will also face huge boss monsters like the huge Guard armor, Oogie Boogie and a giant Hades. Sora is packed with a lot of animation frames for jumping, attacking and running around. To help express the characters like they would in a console game Square-Enix has close ups of the characters faces over their text boxes.

To complement the game's graphics you've got an excellent soundtrack, albeit a reused one. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories use many of the songs heard in the first game down sampled for the GBA. The familiar songs and themes from the Disney movies have been changed into MIDI tracks, that sound good for a GBA. The sheer number of different songs is what makes the game so impressive. Each world has a handful of different songs from the movies or if it's a Square world original pieces from Square-Enix.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories does a great job of getting gamers who are unfamiliar with the series up to par with the story in preparation for KH2. Since it's the first Kingdom Hearts title on the GBA its probably a good choice. There isn't as much "new" content as fans of the PS2 game would have liked to see. Some gamers might not be happy going through the same worlds they've already conquered. The unique battle system and custom map making should be enough to tide fans of the series over. Overall, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is a stellar addition to the Game Boy Advance line up and is something that gamers should pick up this holiday season.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 5

You can probably figure out the battle system and how to play the game with some trial and error. However, the story is what drives Chain of Memories and you will be missing out on that completely. On top of that the menus and the cards are in Japanese, which can make setting up your deck a challenge.

US Bound?

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has a US release date of December 07, 2004.

Overall

Even though gamers who have beat the first Kingdom Hearts may be disappointed with the lack of new worlds and characters, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories has enough innovation in gameplay plus fun factor to make it a worthy purchase.