Review by Incinerator
"Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Boxy Rooms?"
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is the highly-anticipated sequel to Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts, released for the PS2 in 2002. Chain of Memories is an Action-RPG, although it takes game play in a different direction than its predecessor. This installment features, nay, revolves around a new card-based system. Everything, from traveling between worlds to beating up enemies, and even opening a simple door, requires the use of cards. The change to a card system does not hurt the game. In fact, it's just the opposite; the card system feels like a natural evolution for the genre. The problem with this game lies in the execution.
This is the meat-and-potatoes of the game, and unfortunately, the meat is a bit stringy and the potatoes are overcooked. The game play consists of entering a world with a theme from the original Kingdom Hearts (Traverse Town, Hollow Bastion, etc) and running from one perfectly square box room to the next. You'll find a ton of enemies spawning all over the place, maybe some springs to help you jump to a higher level, and if you're lucky, a treasure chest. Repeat for two dozen or so times, running into some half-baked story sequences along the way, then you fight the boss and leave. Repeat again for a dozen worlds. Why is the level structure so boring? The reason lies in the cards. You use cards to open the door to the next room, and whichever card you play results in the type of room you're going to enter. For example, you could play a card that creates a room full of enemies, or a card that creates a save-point room, or a room with a treasure chest. This forces the game to have a small set number of pre-made rooms which are fit with the theme of whatever world you're currently in. Result? An incredibly boring game.
The combat system is where this game partly redeems itself. Fighting is executed using (again) cards. The player has a deck of cards, representing keyblade attacks, magic, summons, and items. Each card has a value from 0-9. If a card is played against yours, or vice-versa, the card with the lower value breaks and the card with the higher value is played. You can chain up to 3 cards together for a combo, and you can produce special attacks by using certain card combinations. This combat system is surprisingly easy to pick up and feels quite natural after a bit of practice. Boss battles are fast and furious, with the player trying to counter the boss's powerful combos while sneaking in hits and special attacks of his own. However, fighting hordes of normal enemies over and over again becomes incredibly boring. After so much fighting, you boil your tactics down to the chain of combos that clears the screen in the quickest fashion, making combat a repetitive chore.
Chain of Memories lies between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, as a sort of KH 1 1/2. The events take place directly after the first, with Sora and friends entering Castle Oblivion in search for King Mickey. The entire game takes place within this one castle. The story centers on memory, as you probably guessed by the title, with the characters forgetting stuff and remembering things they didn't know before. Without giving too much away, I will say that after you have finished the game, you feel like you have accomplished absolutely nothing. The story, which should be the strongest point of an RPG, is weak.
The graphics in this game are pretty good. The character and enemy sprites are very colorful and detailed with silky smooth animation. There is also FMV of good quality for important story sequences. However, there is less to be said about the environment outside of combat. The rooms seem bland, with perfectly smooth floor dotted with small objects only there to fill the void. The biggest complaint about the graphics is that there's slowdown in battle quite often. It gets quite bothersome and often interferes with your performance.
The music in this game is disappointing. The soundtrack is limited to downgraded songs from the original Kingdom Hearts, plus a few below-average tracks used for some story sequences. As the credits roll, Simple and Clean (complete with lyrics) is played, and it actually sounds quite good. Alas, if only the rest of the game's music sounded that good. As far as sound effects go, there is nothing noteworthy here, for good or bad. They're all quite standard, with a few voice bits thrown in for summons and magic.
As good as you can ask for. The controls in battle are very smooth, and outside of battle they're adequate. The only quirk comes in the isometric view of the levels, which makes determining your exact position with respect to the enemies a bit weird. Nothing much to complain about here.
Easy. Once you get certain cards and know how to exploit them, you can blow right through battles. If you don't want to fight, and have a bunch of map cards, it's possible to run through entire worlds without running into any enemies, as they're quite easy to avoid.
Ah, the best part of the game. That is, if you have beaten the game and aren't too bored to go back for another play-through. The large part of the replay value comes in the Reverse/Rebirth mode. In this mode you get to play through the game with Riku, Sora's childhood rival, with his side of the story and cooler combat. This effectively doubles the game's length, although you might be too tired of the endless boxy rooms to play through it. There's also a ton of special cards and stuff to collect, some only after you've beaten the game. Square also generously provided a Versus mode for facing off with your friends. However, it is unlocked after you beat the game. For what reason, who knows?
Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories turns out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Although it is a hyped game from a top-notch third party developer, it turns out to be little more than an average game with a smattering of polish and maybe a nifty hat. I give it a 5/10.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 12/22/04
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