I didn’t know what to expect from Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memories. I am a huge fan of Square Enix’s Theatrhythm line, and this seemed to diverge in a way I wasn’t sure I liked. Especially since I recently had a bad experience with another rhythm game that tried to tie beating up enemies to matching beats. But while the tutorial almost gave me pause, the rest of the demonstration reassured me.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memories’ introduction begins with some very basic rhythm staples. There are standard notes, where you press cross, L1, or R1 on the PlayStation 4 controller for a basic attack. Some enemies require multiple hits, initiating quicker combos. If you come upon two or three notes at the same time, a combo will trigger and require you to tap between two and three of those buttons, depending on how many foes appear. You have a triangle button switching things up to perform another sort of hit, or perhaps a quick one-two combo of a circle jump that leads into a cross hit. There are even hold notes, which involve Sora jumping into the air to glide, which tend to involve sliding along the path to hit more triggers or pressing the L1 or R1 buttons to have allies attack.
So, it seems pretty standard, right? And honestly, the tutorial went well. It felt a bit easy at times, especially when stringing together chains. However, and this is going to sound odd, but the song paired with it actually made things seem harder than they were in the trial. Everything was set to “Dive into the Heart: Destati.” Unquestionably fitting, given it is the song used for lots of tutorials. But it was almost too mellow and difficult to discern the right beats for the trial.
Fortunately, the other songs in the Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory demo I went through had my back. I had four songs available with three different difficulty levels unlocked. Kingdom Hearts’ “Hand in Hand” and “Welcome to Wonderland,” Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep’s “The Rustling Forest,” and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage’s “Wave of Darkness I” all did a much better job of putting those staples to use.
A lot of information is available immediately. The Track Selection screen lets you sort by installment, style, and other categories, with the ability to register favorites and select a random song available. Numbers next to the title designate the difficulty, and you can see your earned grades. So for the sake of the demo, the easiest track was “Welcome to Wonderland,” with a 6 on standard. “Wave of Darkness I” was the most challenging at 11.
As you might imagine, the numbers offer an idea of complexity. The two easier tunes, “Welcome to Wonderland” and “Hand in Hand,” didn’t have too many joint notes. Enemies are well-spaced out, with plenty of time to appropriately attack. It felt like I had more time between combos that involved jumping and attacking, and the gliding held notes always only involved gliding. In fact, I didn’t even see any multi-hit enemies in “Welcome to Wonderland.”
But what really helped me understand the gravity of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory and how it feels like it really gets the sort of timing, note patterns, and pacing you expect from a rhythm game, came with “Wave of Darkness.” Even on the Standard difficulty, you have patterns with what felt like syncopated beats in the moment. When Sora glides, you absolutely will have to have your finger on the L1 or R1 trigger, because Donald or Goofy will be facing foes below. I thought I was ready for it, but no. I missed enough notes to have my health drop to zero and had to enroll myself in the Beginner version of the tune, which drops it down to a 6, to prepare for my second approach. I don’t even want to think about what it would be like on the Proud difficulty.
The Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory demo I went through left me feeling like I was in a more positive place with the game. Initially, seeing the Theatrhythm-inspired Sora, Donald, and Goofy avatars on the loading screen made me long for those good old days, but once I headed into “Welcome to Wonderland,” I was able to see how things come together. It’s encouraging in a way I didn’t expect and I look forward to seeing what the full game feels like next month.
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on November 11, 2020 in Japan and November 13, 2020 worldwide. The demo will be available on October 14, 2020.