Review by bluehawk102
"What we should have gotten from the start..."
Kingdom Hearts 1 came out in 2002 and it blended together Disney, Square Enix, and Final Fantasy. That right there sounds crazy, but it worked to an extent and was a good nostalgia trip. Overall, the first Kingdom Hearts was a pretty decent game and did pretty well for itself. Naturally a sequel was inevitable, but Kingdom Hearts 2 was not due out until roughly 2006. In comes Chain of Memories on the GBA in 2004 to tide us over until then and bridge the gap between the two. This is where my tagline comes in as well. To me I did not like Chain of Memories on the GBA. For one it breaks the flow of the series. You have 2 cinematic games and then one game to bridge the gap between the two on the Gameboy. Don't get me wrong, the Gameboy is a good system but the thing is if you are going to make a sequel to the story, however brief, it should be on the same console. Save a GBA game for a trivial sidequest-minigame kind of thing where the emphasis is really on the gameplay and not the story. So what then is Re:Chain of Memories? Well it is what I just said, how Chain of Memories should have been; that is a sequel to Kingdom Hearts 1 with all its visuals, voice acting, and cutscenes, etc all the while keeping the flow of the series going albeit the different gameplay mechanics. It came out in Japan with Final Mix+, another move by Square that annoys me. Final Mix+ added more features to Kingdom Hearts 2 as well as this Chain of Memories remake. Hopes of getting Final Mix+ were nill, but what was more annoying was the fact they had a 3D Chain of Memories and we did not. Eventually it was announced for America and was released just recently. We may not have Final Mix+ still, but at least we have this to enjoy. With that out of the way how does the game stack up then?
One of the main gripes with Kingdom Hearts was the hack and slash gameplay. Basically you can just mash the attack button over and over again without the need for magic or what have you. When Chain of Memories was released for the GBA it went for a card system approach to everything. This port to the PS2 is no different and the card based battle system is intact. While it still may be hack and slash to an extent, some strategy is required. You will find that if you mash attack too often you will find yourself out of luck. The learning curve for the system can vary. To me it did take some getting used to. The gist is you have three kinds of cards all with a value of 0-9: Red, Blue, and Green. Red are your keyblade cards, Blue are Magic and Summons, and Green are healing cards. You are limited to the amount of cards you can have in your deck by the total number of CP(Card points) you have. You get more CP upon leveling up although you have to choose between that, increasing your HP, or learning a new sleight. Sleights are when you stack three cards together to perform a stronger attack with the game offering a variety of combinations. I'm getting a little ahead here, but basically your enemies will "attack" that is draw a card with values ranging from 0-9 and your attack card has to be higher or at least match it for a card break. You can stop an enemy dead in their tracks with the right card drawn. You really do need to pay attention to what cards you are using so it really isn't as hack and slash as the other two in the series. This system is not without its flaws though. Besides the initial confusing there is also a false sense of security it can bring. You will find yourself thinking you have the hang of the system along with a pretty decent deck upon fighting the same old heartless, but once you get to a boss fight the deck you thought kicked ass ends up getting your ass kicked. The heartless are slow to attack and only draw out one card really. Bosses are the ones that end up using sleights and attacking so fast your head will spin sometimes. Granted I'm not a master of this card based battle system. Others may find it easy to use, and upon further practice and leveling up the player can get the hang of it. It is all trial and error really. Another grip is the uselessness of the magic cards. I don't know what it is about the Kingdom Hearts series, but magic always ends up being second rate. Kingdom Hearts 1 had some pretty weak spells. I mean Firaga was just a fireball? Whoopdeedoo. It's like they just tack it on there because it is an RPG and must have magic or something. You will find that most bosses are immune to magic and even some of the magic you use ends up missing anyway because the enemy moves and Sora can't aim. Don't bother wasting your time with these and just stick to certain Summon and Attack cards. In the end, though, they managed to port everything pretty well. The system translates well to the PS2 although I had some annoyances with the camera not showing the entire screen which ends up with me taking a hit or two. My problem with the GBA was that the fighting arena seemed more claustrophobic which is natural considering it was on the GBA. Again, this goes back to my point that it should have originally been on the PS2. Now that it is on the PS2, the player will find it is a lot easier to move around. This is good because it helps to avoid attacks better, but bad because it is also hard to make attacks contact sometimes. I will find Sora completely misses a few times often wasting my attack card in the process.
All I can say is that I am glad this is on the PS2. I always felt like I was missing out on the story. It seemed idiotic to have a sequel on the GBA and thus sacrificing a lot of character development. Quite a few characters are introduced in this game and some are only in this game, but it still sets up for Kingdom Hearts 2. It often begged the question of whether or not it should be played. This is what I was pondering when doing the review and it is my key problem with the game. Chain of Memories does not seem to know whether it wants to be a sequel or just a cliff notes version of the first game. To me it is a sequel that should be played after the first one. The problem I have is that you have to suffer through revisting the worlds you visited in the first one although the twist is they are through Sora's memory. Still, it just feels like it is extending gameplay for the sake of extending gameplay. The player wants new story exposition, but they have to go through all the worlds again just to do so. Anyway, Chain of Memories picks up right where Kingdom Hearts 1 left off. Sora and company find themselves in what will later be called Castle Oblivion where the tagline is to find is to lose, and to lose is to find. If you cannot guess from the title this game is about memories. As Sora progresses through the story he will be confronted with memories he never knew he had all the while finding out he is losing the ones he had prior. It is a pretty engaging story for the most part that can have its frustrating elements especially with the conclusion. Obviously I cannot spoil it, but one would have to play to see.
Have you played Kingdom Hearts 1? If yes, then play this. If not, then you now have the opportunity to get KH1, this game, and Kingdom Hearts 2 all on the same system without the worries of digging up a GBA or something. It is not that expensive at the moment, going for no more than $30. The gameplay may have its share of flaws, but seeing the story unfold like it should have makes up for it. Having the Chain of Memories Organization members more fleshed out with voice actors is a rewarding experience. It is a good port that captures the core gameplay of the GBA version while updating it for the PS2 experience. It is a must have for Kingdom Hearts fans, and it is nice that it works well on the PS2 and is not Japanese exclusive anymore. That said, pick this game up.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/23/08
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories (US, 12/02/08)
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