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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

Square Enix
Action RPG
Kingdom Hearts
  • December 7, 2004
  • November 11, 2004
  • May 6, 2005
B 30 total ratings
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Chain of Memories Review

A Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories review Author: Jeriaska Published: May 05, 2006
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The first three quarters of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memory are a joy to play, making the game's poorly designed finale all the more disappointing. Top notch graphics effortlessly render the polygonal characters from the PS2 game into crisp 2D sprites, while battles are quick and loading time is minimal. Owners of the Game Boy Advance are well aware that the soundcard when aided with a pair of headphones is reminiscent of the Super Famicom but higher quality. Veteran game composer Yoko Shimomura takes full advantage of the portable music box. Her soundtrack consists primarily of masterful remixes of Kingdom Hearts tunes, providing her tightest OST since the 16-bit days of yore.

Crisp graphics and fast-paced battles smooth over the derivative plotline
The Chain of Memories battle system is intriguing, but flawed. Every single solitary action in a battle involves drawing a playing card from Sora's pack, from swinging your keyblade, to drawing a spell. Enemies draw as well, and the dude with the higher card will strike, meaning that if you try healing Sora in a pinch with a weak level card, your foe will slap it down. Want a higher level healing card? Good luck finding one. The cards are randomly allocated and even in the last portions of the game the rewards you receive from pawning cards on the miserly moogles are downright lousy.

Reloading your deck in battle mode requires you to stand in place while you charge up, leaving you a sitting duck to attacks. Zero cards will break any attack, so long as they are played after the enemy?s card. They are your only hope of evading the monster combos whipped out by bosses later on in the game. Sora can pull off nifty three-card chain attacks and ally-aided triads by stacking "sleights," but you'll lose the first card used in the sleight for the remainder of the fight, which in a boss battle can quickly whittle your pack down to nothing.

Sora can pull off a dodge roll that helps him evade damage, but high-powered enemies will waylay him regardless, unless he whips out a zero card just in time. Simply put, the card system shows promise but is poorly executed. Too often when the player is trying to heal himself in a pinch, the enemy will cruelly deflect or break his card. Retaining the battle mode of the original game, or at least providing better cards, could have aided the gameplay of this pseudo-sequel immensely. Running out of cards, getting them broken and deflected, having to charge up while enemies go to town on your defenseless avatar, and other instances of card-based frustration may well leave the gamer longing for the simple hack and slash dynamics of the original.

The story of Chain of Memories relies on derivative plot elements for the first half of the game, while the new material with all its elaborate plot details lacks originality and depth. Sora has his memory hijacked by a little girl named Namine who is being held captive in Castle Oblivion by a coterie of leather-clad unabombers called the Organization. The amnesia plot device, familiar to sitcom characters the world over, allows the game designers to recycle the plot from the original Kingdom Hearts, which was itself a mishmash of cartoon morality tales. When Sora is told by the sometimes nefarious Riku near the game's climax that the protagonist?s failing memory is "a train wreck," this observation should come as no surprise. After all, Sora's life history is an arbitrary assemblage of mangled plotpoints from random Disney flicks new and old.

The game's early chapters involving such fetch quests as saving Alice from the sadistic queen of Wonderland and helping Jack Skellington take down the gluttonous scumbag Boogy are certainly brisk and fun, with the exception of a brief interlude involving guiding a retarded Winnie the Pooh through an obstacle course, but they show none of the inspired elements found in Square's best RPGs. Well drawn but derivative, to say the least, the story faces major impediments. Conversing with Donald and Goofy will appeal only to children too young to handle the trying play mechanics of this imbalanced action RPG. For instance, the cartoon characters presume to tell Sora that his memories are stored in his heart. This, my dear cartridge, is a blatant lie. Square Enix, memories go in the brain! Why adults, children, or anyone else should find such scientific blunders the subject of enjoyment is beyond reason. Presumably in the world of Kingdom Hearts people digest nutrients between their ears and solve equations with the pancreas. Memories = brains, morons! Get it right! Sheesh.

The simple adventures in Wonderland prove more winsome than the confusing main plotline
Simply put, the story of Chain of Memories is horrifically convoluted. Once the Disney stories are dispensed with, a soap opera unfolds around feuding emo hoodies conjured up by character designer Testuya Nomura. The final quarter of the game throws a bunch of bewildering plot points at the player to set up Kingdom Hearts 2, rendering the final portions of the quest an exasperating affair. All the lost memories, regained memories, and lurching plot turns fail to giddy the mind with delight. In classics like the wicked good Final Fantasy IV Advance you got a straightforward plot, sans tangles, cartwheels, and U-turns. The results were far more rewarding in providing an immersive and cohesive storyline.

Players of Chain of Memories will note that the game progresses at a steady enough clip right up until the deadly Castle Oblivion, when the battle system?s learning curve suddenly undergoes a hyperexponential increase in difficulty. Once the protagonist encounters Riku for the fourth time and the leather-clad Organization reveal their final incarnations, Sora?s adventure suddenly ceases to be fun. The giddy romp unexpectedly metamorphoses into a thankless chore, causing the gamer to wonder why in Hades he kept playing past Hercules and Mt. Olympus. When the boss battles suddenly go ballistic, the card system's faults become manifestly obvious. Even if the player is lucky enough to stock up the best available weapons and spells, he will find that most of them are useless against the revved-up antagonists. Their HP is twice that of Sora's, even if his hit points are maxed out. Worse, they'll unleash these barrages of slights that unless you have a zero card will send your character flopping around the screen like a bouncy ball in a bathroom while you sit there getting your cards deflected. Nothing says frustration like seeing Sora helplessly being pummeled, and there?s plenty of chain-attack punishment to be found in the bosses of Castle Oblivion. Hence the "Chain of Pain" in this review's title. The Organization responsible for Sora's woes should have spent less time in-fighting and more time Organizing this crazy plot.

In well balanced RPG's, such ass-whooping as that provided by the moody-broody Organizationizers can be counteracted by observing boss?s patterns and devising new strategies, then leveling up until the it is time for an even match. The problem with Chain of Memories is that leveling up does little to round out your character. You will get only one of the following attributes per level-up: a) a measly 15 HP, easily crushed in a second by a formidable boss b) 25 CP to add a card to your pack, which will be effortlessly deflected in battle c) a sleight that is useless and will waste a card in your pack. Even leveling up until you max out your HP and CP, since most cards are useless, will enable the bosses to just keep handing the player his ass. This makes finishing the game a horrendous chore.

Were this game to abide by the conventions of a more traditional role playing game, the player could stock up on the cards he needs at a shop using points accrued in random battles. However, Chain of Memories screws the gamer by ditching item shops in favor of bastard moogles that will give you random cards for your well earned points. The cards you receive for even the most exorbitantly priced packs are worthless against the bosses. You?ll get 2 and 3 cards for 500 rare moogle points. The real world equivalent to describe the situation would be like needing drano to unclog a toilet, walking into a convenience store, handing over a hundred dollar bill, and receiving a snickers, a pack of Kleenex, and a rake. By consequence, the primary quest breaks down to 15 hours of fun followed by another 15 hours of tireless bitchwork. Enjoy.
Sora summons Cloud in a high-powered sleight, though such attacks prove worthless against the final foes

Once gamers have completed the frustrating first run-through as Sora, one can traverse Castle Oblivion as Riku, ala Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Kingdom Hearts devotees will find plenty of dramaturgy regarding the Organization and their various and sundry intrigues in "Reverse Bebirth," but casual gamers will lose interest hours before facing Ansem in the finally final battle. In summation, the first three quarters of Chain of Memories is portable joy, but the experience shatters into shards of pain when the difficulty becomes, in an instant, unreasonably egregious with nary a power-up in sight.

Fans of the game have a 3D remake to look forward to in Re:Chain of Memories which will come packed with Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix. Hopefully Square will get a clue and balance the gameplay for the Playstation 2 iteration, so that this time Sora will stand a chance against the unfairly advantaged Organization. Squeenix truly ought to have partitioned the thankless grudgework to Riku's side quest and allowed more casual gamers to breeze through Sora's adventures unencumbered by such unreasonable nuisances as Marluxia's psycho chain attacks. Will Final Mix right this nefarious design flaw? Time will tell.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "Chain of Memories scores on superior sound and graphics, though the story and gameplay balance are undermined by some heartless design flaws. "
B dotted line Average Reader Score (Based on 30 ratings) | Rate it Now
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