Review by GMRZno9

"Playing with the Kingdom of Hearts."

There's really no crossover seen in quite some time like that of Kingdom Hearts. Combining one of the most beloved video-gaming franchises, known for it's exquisite story-telling, and fusing it with the imagination and whimsical world of Disney, it raised a few eyebrows. Surprisingly, when released for PlayStation 2 in 2002, it met with pretty good success, enough to help it spawn as a new franchise from Square-Enix. Now, with a PS2 sequel on the horizon, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories gives its debut, serving as a bridge to this upcoming sequel, as well as presenting a radical change for gameplay.

Memories starts off right at the end of the first Kingdom Hearts, as we find our hero, Sora, with friends Donald and Goofy, running down a long path in an open field. Sora then approaches a crossroad, and starts to reminisce about friends he has left behind. After some mysterious advice from a menacing unknown, phantom-like person, Sora eventually ends up at Castle Oblivion. He learns that within here, lies something that is dear to him, but he must sacrifice something to obtain it. This, apparently, involves something about his memories. And, so begins Sora's journey through Castle Oblivion and his memories to find his near-and-dear object / person / whatever.

The most different and noticeable change in Memories lies in the combat system. It now relies completely on cards to act in battle. Yes, it seems that every game is falling victim to this recent wave of card-battle games, but it actually works for this kind of set-up. It gives a good degree of strategy to what was once a hack-and-slash and really has you thinking on your feet. Confused a bit? I'll elaborate.

You'll need cards to pretty much do any act in battle. The cards represent such things as attacks with Sora's Keyblade, magic spells (Fire, Blizzard, Cure, etc), summons (various Disney and Square characters who provide special talents), items, and enemy cards (provide special latent effects). Each card also has a numerical value, ranging from 0 to 9. This determines a card dominance when it is played during a battle. A card of a higher-value being played over a card of lower value is known as a "Card Break". This results in the player of the lower-valued card being stunned for a moment, being left vulnerable to attack. Cards of higher value beat lower-valued cards, obviously, except with 0, which can beat ANY card if played after, but can be broken by any numbered card if played first. If cards of equal-value are played, it results on card breaks on both users.

Mechanics of cards work basically on their description. Different types of Keyblades effect their swing speed and their attack strength. Playing three cards in a row results in a combo. You can also "stock" away up to 3 cards to perform special moves called "sleights" with attack cards. Stocking multiple magic spells of the same element also creates a more powerful version of the spell (Fire -> Fira -> Firaga), and stocking multiple summon cards allows for more powerful abilities from your summons.

Whenever you use a card, it is discarded, and if you use up all your cards, you pretty much are left powerless. However, you can "recharge" your deck by highlighting the reload icon in your deck and holding down the "A" button. It takes longer to reload each time you do, and reloading leaves you open to enemy attack, so a sense of timing and careful rationing of cards and reloading are required.

New cards can be obtained through environments or through Moogle Shops, which require Moogle Points (obtained from the in-game environments or by trading unwanted cards to Moogle Shops). This can help you maximize potential to your deck(s).

Understand? Well, don't worry. The game does a good job of easing you into the new system while slowly toughing things up. Open exploration of different deck strategies is encouraged, and it often proves to be effective in some of the tougher boss battles. It really is fun as all of this takes place in real-time, similar to the first Kingdom Hearts.

Gameplay outside of battle consists of running through randomly-generated rooms within colorful and detailed environments, most of them being from the last game (as this is a re-track through Sora's memories). You go from room to room through Room Synthesis. "Map cards" are required for this process. Each room has a set criteria (usually consisting of what type of map card and it's value) for how to synthesize it, and this determines what the next room will contain or how it will affect you or the monsters. Some map cards can weaken monsters, some can power up your cards, some allow for treasure to appear in the room, and some can spawn save points or handy Moogle Shops.

The graphics are some of the best seen on the GBA. The character sprites each have their own distinct quality and are pretty detailed in both form and animation. Environments resonate similar quality. The game also has a few FMVs, which have the same quality from the original KH from the PS2. They really do like nice, seeing as they are on a GBA, but they are really too far between and short.

The sound is also very well done. Music themes for each environment are clear and have really good tone to represent the world. Some are also very catchy. Character sound snippets are present, and give the same kind of quality expected, as most of them are recycled from the PS2 game (at least for the familiar characters).

While this game does allow for the inner strategist to flex their imaginations, the game actually proves to be easy in points, as most of it can be past by using simple, less complex battle plans. It just is simply sad to see such great potential of a battle system see some abuse, because if you were challenged, the game would actually be near-perfect.

The game is also pretty short. I had a final clock-in at 15 hours, as this was mostly a linear game offering no extra content in the quest. Extra replay value is added through the "Reverse/Rebirth" mode after beating the game once. It's a game mode that presents a different story from a different character running parallel to Sora's, and it's a real treat for Kingdom Hearts' fans.

Also, some may be turned off by the majority of the repeating worlds coming into play, with only a few new environments and no real big plot unravelling until the nearing of the game's conclusion.

As it stands though, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is pretty much a must-get for Kingdom Hearts fans, and the story is really worth looking into. It goes above and beyond superficial perceptions of its crossover status and delivers great story-telling. Newcomers may find themselves a bit confused, but can still find enjoyment in it (even if some key points from the original PS2 game are spoiled). The new battle system presents interesting ideas, and it shows that this game actually had work put into it, instead of it just being a quick extra cash-in for a fledgling franchise.

I give Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advance a 7 out of 10.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/03/05

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