Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Sora's Memories: Now In 3-D!"

Kingdom Hearts should have never been good. Think about it: mixing the light-hearted cartoons of Disney with the spiky-haired seriousness of Final Fantasy. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Who would've thought that the end result, Kingdom Hearts would take off the way it did. Once thought to be one of the most unlikely of alliances in gaming history, the Kingdom Hearts series has been widely acclaimed as one of Square's most treasured of franchises. After the first installment, the GBA game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories appeared, spewing out the mystery and intensity of the series in portable form. After the colossal hit that was Kingdom Hearts II, SquareEnix released the re-release Final Mix+ in Japan. Sadly, North America never received Final Mix+, but not to ignore the fans, a part of Final Mix+ arrived on North American shores in 2008. The part was Re:Chain of Memories, a remake of Chain of Memories in 3-D. Can Re:Chain of Memories recapture the unforgettable journey through Castle Oblivion?

If you've played the original GBA version of Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts: Re:Chain of Memories will be pretty familiar. After the events of the original Kingdom Hearts, Sora, Donald, and Goofy begin their quest to find the royal King Mickey and Sora's friend Riku. After exploring a vast field led along by Mickey's companion Pluto, Sora encounters a cloaked stranger who seems to know a little more about Sora's memories than Sora himself does. Sora, Donald, and Goofy discover an abstract castle named Castle Oblivion, where memories can manifest themselves into entire worlds. Cryptically led along by the stranger, Sora uses strange cards to represent the different worlds that he's seen before. Along the way, Sora discovers familiar friends, new enemies, and some twists that really shake up the storyline. The game is essentially the same if you've played the GBA original, but that doesn't stop the story from pushing the typical Kingdom Hearts mystery. The Kingdom Hearts series has always had an odd juxtaposition in its storylines: despite the kid-friendly characters, there has always been a depth and importance in the story, and Re:Chain of Memories is no different. If you haven't played the GBA version, Re:Chain of Memories is practically required to get the gist of what occurs between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. The story keeps the Kingdom Hearts quality in high regard and could actually be the most impressive story installment in the entire series.

The combat focuses around the same card system as the GBA version had. Sora's attacks, magic, items, and friend support are all equipped to different cards. The L1 and R1 shoulder buttons let you sift through your deck and pressing the X button lets you use the selected card. You can select anything from a Keyblade strike, a magic spell like Fire or Cure, or even a support attack from a comrade. Besides the type, cards also have numbers. When using a card, an opponent can cancel the attack with a higher numbered card. The higher the card number, the less likely it is to be canceled with a “Card Break”. The 0 card can be used to block any attack, but only if it is used at the right time. Otherwise, it's easily broken.

Along with single card attacks, cards can be stocked by pressing the Triangle button, combining the card numbers for stronger attacks. If the right cards are stocked, Sora can perform Sleights, super-powerful attacks that range from a sliding dash to a combination of magic and melee. The action in combat is near constant, but balancing your deck while avoiding enemies' attacks can get pretty complicated, at least at first. Couple that with the fact that the boss characters are downright merciless and you get a game that will test every bit of your action RPG skills. Though there may be times when you'll find yourself screaming at your TV, the challenge is (for the most part) consistent. Just be sure to pack a few Cure cards.

Combat doesn't just involve the action; you'll find a good degree of RPG elements in Re:Chain of Memories' gameplay. Constructing your deck takes CP, or Card Points, with each card using up Sora's CP. Higher numbered cards or stronger abilities take up more CP, so balancing your deck with high-level cards with the less-CP-demanding cards is essential. Earning HP and CP increases (along with new Sleights) appears when leveling up. Like many other RPG's, you can pretty much play your own way when constructing your deck. Focusing your deck on attacks, magic, or items is easy to accomplish, and experimenting with your different techniques is surprisingly addictive. The depth of the deck construction is remarkable and will keep you battling Heartless as long as you wish.

But combat is only the first part of gameplay. Another major gameplay element is the dungeon crawling, which is also is implemented into cards. Whenever Sora enters a new room on the map, he can select a type of card that changes the form of the room. For example, some cards may make more Heartless appear or create a spot to save your game. These Map Cards are earned through battles with Heartless. When a Heartless appears on the map, Sora can either let it start the battle, run away, or make the initial attack to stun a Heartless. There's a great variety in the Map Cards, which for the most part, lets you play through a map your own way. If you want to fight extra powerful Heartless and earn experience, go right ahead. If you want to passively earn treasure, go right ahead. There's a degree of versatility in the battles, allowing you to go about each world with your best interests in mind. Though there are times when grinding is recommended (the game can get pretty difficult later on), the overall structure is adaptive and versatile, something that many dungeon-crawlers have yet to fully master. Re:Chain of Memories takes the combat and dungeon exploration and integrates both into a satisfying whole that nearly any gamer will find worthwhile.

But what makes Re:Chain of Memories worth buying to those who played the GBA version? The most apparent of changes is the shift from 2-D to 3-D. As in Kingdom Hearts II, the camera is controlled with the right analog stick. Sora can lock-on to enemies with the R2 button. Also, the Sleights have been moved from the two shoulder buttons to the now-available Triangle button, making it much easier to select cards for Sleights. Some Sleights even demand Reaction Commands to get the most out of an attack, which adds a dynamic element to the already incredible special attacks. The power of the PS2 also allows for an improved presentation, featuring more 3-D cutscenes and voice acting. You'll see the return of characters from Kingdom Hearts II, and seeing some characters from the GBA version finally get voice acting is a real treat. Finally, there is the ability to skip the cutscenes, a major improvement from mindlessly scrolling through text boxes like in the GBA version. Overall, aside from the inability to take your game with you on the go, Re:Chain of Memories is the better edition of Chain of Memories. It manages to make great improvements that make Sora's journey through Castle Oblivion one to remember.

Pros
+ Great mix of combat and dungeon-crawling
+ Card combat is versatile and lets you construct your deck how you want
+ Improved presentation
+ Much more manageable controls

Cons
- If you played the original Chain of Memories, there isn't a ton of new content
- Can be pretty difficult
- We really should've gotten Final Mix+

Re:Chain of Memories stands tall above its already great caliber, creating versatile dungeon elements and addictive deck construction that work incredibly well together. The action is intense and furious, but the card gameplay adds a degree of strategy that action RPG's seem to be lacking these days. The improved 3-D graphics and excellent voice-acting serve to make the story even more captivating. It's quite difficult at times, but overcoming the different challenges is worth it at the end of the day. If you missed out on the original Chain of Memories and are still wondering about what happened to Sora between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, Re:Chain of Memories is the definitive edition of the mystery-filled story. But even if you have played the original Chain of Memories, the refined gameplay and improved presentation will hook you from the start. Though it'll never replace Final Mix+, Re:Chain of Memories is an impressive remake of one of the great GBA role-playing games.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/12/09

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories (US, 12/02/08)


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