Review by magus704

""Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories holds as a faithful sub-story to the Kingdom Hearts story.""

In 2002 a gem on the PS2 was released going by the name of Kingdom Hearts. It combined a seemingly impractical collection of characters from Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchises – more notably 7, 8 and 10 – with the memorable characters from Disney's movie roster. This eclectic amalgamation between the two iconic companies won fans over with its well put together story and action RPG gameplay. So that's why now with the impending release of Kingdom Hearts 2 expected to hit store shelves September 2005, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is here on the Gameboy Advance to quell fans' anticipation until KH2 finally comes around and to bridge the storyline gap between KH1 and KH2.

Story: 8/10
Since this game is meant as a medium between KH1 and KH2 fans of the series will feel right at home with Chain of Memories' story. Picking up right where KH1 left off, you see Sora, Donald and Goofy walking through a field where they are confronted by a mysterious man in black. This man will speak to the protagonists and will eventually lead them to Castle Oblivion where the adventure will take place. What's interesting about the game's storyline is the fact that the game's core gameplay mechanic of card battling is integrated right into it and into every facet of the game. This may sound a little odd and undoable but what Square Enix has done is have the entire Castle Oblivion to be governed by cards, effectively justifying the card system. It is through this card system that Sora and company will be allowed to go back and revisit all of the old worlds from the original game with the same returning characters and bad guys by using special world cards as a form of activator to allow you to progress through the game.

Overall, the game's storyline is innovative simply because of the card integration woven into the game's storyline. Speaking on the story in general, it's pretty standard with the usual conventions in all Japanese RPGs – like the classic self deprecation - and the collection of returning characters from the original Kingdom Hearts will make fans of the series feel right at home.

Gamplay: 7/10
As I said before, this game's core gameplay mechanic is card battling. The way the battle system works is very easy to grasp. Your deck of cards is displayed in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. On each card there's a numerical value from 0 to 9. You want to have high value cards because these cards have a greater chance to break an opponents' card and to prevent your own from being broke. “Card break” is basically the game's counter system and allows you, or your opponent, to stop an attack from being executed stunning them momentarily and allowing an attack or your own to come into play. The way the number system of the cards works is simple. If you have a card of greater value than the computer then you will break it, if you have the same value card then it acts as a draw giving an advantage to neither and if the value of your card is lower than the computer's then nothing will happen and it will be a waste of a card. There is an exception to this though; the zero card behaves a little differently than the other cards since it has the ability to break any card, no matter the value. However, the zero card can be broken by any card once put into play, so it should be used strategically. The game's card battling system is probably the best done yet but the use of the zero card is about the only strategic aspect to the game's battle system.

Since the original KH was an action RPG, KH: CoM's battle system also works much like the original's as well. The battle screen allows Sora to move all around it. He can also jump, and roll to get out of harm's way. It's because of this action RPG element that takes out much of the strategy involved in the card battle system since all you really need is to stack your deck with the highest number cards and a few zeroes to easily sail by. The game does try to balance this out by a card point system which increases and lets you hold a certain number of cards depending on how many maximum card points you have and the amount of points equipping cards to your deck costs; if you exceed that number, you aren't allowed to use that deck Another way the game tries to correct this is by the game's sleight system. The way the sleight system works is by pressing the two shoulder buttons together to reserve a card. By reserving three cards it'll come out as either a stringed together combo or a sleight, all depending on if you've learned new sleights or not and the total number value of the card saying if it adds up to a sleight or not. Since sleights are more powerful attacks and are difficult to break, because of the combined numerical values, the game penalizes you for using it by taking the first card that you had in reserve before using the sleight completely out of play until the end of the battle. This system would have worked very well if it hadn't been for the fact that the boss battles that you encounter in the game have the bosses having a slight obsession for sleights resulting in them eventually running out of cards if you wait and survive long enough. Battling in the game, including bosses, a very easy task with not much to ever worry about in terms of you dying.

The difficulty of the game is due in partially for the fact that you can generally choose the amount of enemies you want coming at you in every exploration screen. The way this works is by doors that you'll see all over the different worlds where they will ask you to meet a certain numerical quota of 0 to 9. You submit the cards you win from winning battles and these cards can determine if you want to have a save point in the room, how many enemies you want, if you want sleeping enemies and many others. Another interesting thing about the quota system is by the way zero card behaves. Like in battle, it acts uniquely because it has the ability to override any numerical value and allow you access to the room.

This quota system is just about the only exciting part of the exploration portion of the game since it's all very standard. You can run around and initiate battle by either running, or jumping, into an enemy or you could get a jump on the enemy by whacking them with your sword which allows you to go into battle with the enemies already stunned. You can also jump on top of things and whack breakable pieces, like barrels, to reveal health restoring balls or extra cards to add to your deck. While exploring you'll notice doors with crowns on top of them, these are the important rooms where you see the crises happening in the world unfolding. In each world there will be three of them, with three cards that will unlock them. These three chards will always be the same no matter the world your in. This results in the exploration getting a little repetitive pretty fast.

Chain of Memories' gameplay is by no means bad, but it still has a little to desire where balance in the battle system is concerned and the repetitiveness involved in the game's exploration portion of the game can be a real bore once you've gone through the first two or three worlds.

Graphics: 9/10
Graphically, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is definitely flashing the best the GBA has to offer. The graphics are probably the best portion of the game and that's thanks in no small part to the incredible full motion video that Square Enix was able to put into the game; the first time that FMV has been used in a GBA game. The 3D character modeling in the FMV sequences looks pretty much as good as those shown in the PS2 original and is a real jaw dropper to see for the first time. As for in game graphics, the 2D sprites are well drawn, are nice and big and animate very smoothly. The returning worlds in the game look especially good and are pretty much what you would imagine them to be if put onto a 2D plain. While in battle, the effects for some of the more flashy sleights look real cool and will have you congratulating the enemy for pulling them off – even if it did take off half your life. The only complaint I have with this game is the dramatic drop in frame rate I encountered while playing on the later stages of the game. When, while in battle, there was a swarm of enemies on screen, it slowed the entire game down into single digit figures and really spoiled my high opinion of the game's graphics.

KH: CoM's graphics really are outstanding and would've been my clear favourite ever on a GBA game had it not been for the frustrating drop in frame rate right when the battles were starting to pick up.

Sound: 7/10
The sound presented in Chain of Memories' is good but not the best I've ever heard on the GBA. The game is littered with a variety of sound effects that fit properly while in battle and while exploring. Voice acting definitely to be desired in this game; especially in the FMV sequences where you see the characters moving their mouths like they were talking, but you are forced to read since there are subtitles during these sequences with no spoken words. The only voice work to speak of comes from Sora in battle yelling out various things in relation to his action like “heal” - which signifies that he's using a cure card. The music in the game is filled with various returning themes from KH1 and the closing credits even features the KH1 theme song, “Simple and Clean” which should make fans very happy.

The sound in KH: CoM holds faithful to its console big brother and doesn't try to step away very far from that mold making the sound good but not great.

Replayability: 8/10
The game should keep fans of the series happy for a while, even after the initial quest is done. With the inclusion of a separate quest that is unlocked after first beating the game that will tie the game's story together even tighter this is a game with quite a bit of legs to it with twice the adventure rolled into one.
Final Recommendation
As mentioned earlier, this installment in the Kingdom Hearts series is meant as a means to bridge the gap between KH1's and KH2's storylines and is basically acting as a way to get hype back up for the impending release of the true sequel come September. That being said, I must warn all those who are interested in trying to get into the KH franchise by picking up this GBA title or didn't enjoy the first Kingdom Hearts; don't buy this game. If you want to get into the KH series just find the PS2 original used somewhere, and if you truly didn't like Kingdom Hearts and, more specifically, its story then I see you having no reason in picking this game up. Hopefully by saying this I've cleared up any confusion to those haters of the series or to any of those trying to break into the series.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories holds as a faithful sub-story to the Kingdom Hearts story. It will definitely give fans nostalgic feelings from the first game because it loyally holds true to what made the first game as special as it was. This game is a must have for any Kingdom Hearts fan and will be sure to put a smile to their faces.

Final Score: 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 01/31/05

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