Review by Crono09

"Poor battle design ruins the game"

Playing Kingdom Hearts caused me to become fascinated with the series. The characters and story were very well-developed, and the amalgamation of both Final Fantasy and Disney characters was far smoother than I would have imagined. It converted the series from a game that I might play because I had nothing else to do into a series that I really wanted to see to its fruition. The next step was to play the subsequent game in the series.

Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories is the PlayStation 2 remake of the Game Boy Advance game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and takes place between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Although there are quite a few changes to the game, particular the improved 3D format and addition of voice acting, the basic gameplay principles and storyline remain the same. The story begins immediately where the first Kingdom Hearts left off. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are wondering around on an unknown world looking for Riku and King Mickey when they spot Pluto holding a note from the King. Following him, they eventually meet up with a mysterious stranger in black robes who leads them to Castle Oblivion. This castle is somehow tied to their memories. On each floor, they must relive the memories of a different world from the previous game, but as they continue, they realize that they are losing their memory of everything that happened before entering the castle. Sora can only remember that he must protect a girl from his past named Namine, who is being held captive by a group of people clad in black robes that are somehow responsible for what is happening to everyone.

Once Sora's mission is finished, the game isn't over. You can start the game over and play as Riku in what is called "Reverse/Rebirth" mode. Riku's mission is much shorter and easier than Sora's, but their storylines are closely tied together. Riku was last left behind the door to Kingdom Hearts at the end of the first game, and after hovering in darkness, he is somehow pulled into the bottom basement of Castle Oblivion. He must make his way to the ground floor while contending with the same black-robed people as well as the darkness within his own heart. He is assisted by King Mickey, who accompanies him throughout most of the adventure.

Battle in this game uses an interesting concept. Almost all commands are executed through the use of cards. Sora must collect cards throughout the adventure and use them to build a deck. When you go into battle, using a card causes Sora to perform an action. An attack card will cause Sora to swing the Keyblade indicated on the card, and a magic card will make him cast that spell. Also, each card has a number on it ranging from 0 to 9. When the enemy attacks, it must also use a card. However, if your character uses a card at the same time, the lower-numbered card will be canceled, stunning the one who used it. Cards numbered 0 are special because they always break other cards if used last but are always broken by other cards if used first. If Sora uses all the cards in his deck, he can reload them after a short delay.

You can produce stronger attacks using stocked cards and sleights. You can add up to three cards to a stock and then use them in an attack, executing all of them at once. The number of the attack will be equivalent to the sum of the numbers on the three cards, allowing you to use higher-numbered attacks. However, you will lose the first card in the stock for the remainder of the battle, making it possible to run out of cards. Certain combinations of cards will result in a sleight, which is an ultra-powerful attack. Sora and Riku will learn more powerful sleights as the game progresses.

Riku's part of the game also uses cards, but unlike Sora, his deck is preset depending on the world he is on, making it unnecessary to collect cards or build a deck. He can also reload his cards instantly instead of having to wait to reload his deck when it runs out. Riku's selection of cards is much more limited since he cannot use magic or summons and only has one type of attack card.

The card system is, quite honestly, a complete failure. I applaud Square Enix for its original idea in developing this approach, and it may have been okay in a turn-based battle system, but it simply does not work in an action RPG. Many battles, especially boss battles, are simply too fast-paced to make it reasonable to choose which card to use. Even the time it takes to scroll one card is enough time for some later bosses to get in an attack and stun you long enough to deplete most of your HP. As a result, you simply have to take the cards in whatever order you put them in. This eliminates the strategic use of cards, which is what you normally expect in a card game. Many bosses have extremely powerful attacks that can wipe you out in no time and cannot be dodged. The only way to counter these attacks is to card break them, usually with a 0 card, but there often is not enough time to scroll to the right card and use it.

About a third of the way through the game, the numbers on enemy cards will become rather high. Since higher-number cards are rare in the game, the only way to get through them is to use stocked cards. The problem with this is the fact that you lose cards by doing so. Running out of cards was a common problem in boss battles and even in some normal battles late in the game. It was ridiculously frustrating to be unable to do anything, and I consider it poor game design to increase the challenge by preventing the player from taking action.

Compounding this is the fact that Sora cannot do much to improve throughout the game. Leveling up only increases the number of cards Sora can hold in a deck or his HP. The only way to do more damage is to find better attack cards, but the reality is that they aren't that much stronger than the basic attack card, and finding a powerful card with a high number is always rare. At the end of the game, even though I was over level 60, the enemies on the first floor weren't any easier than they were at level 1 because there was nothing I could do to increase my damage output. In contrast, Riku can increase his damage when he levels up, which is part of the reason why I found his mission to be much more enjoyable.

Of course, a good story can sometimes make up for bad gameplay, and Kingdom Hearts had an excellent story. Chain of Memories would continue that, right? Not quite. The overall story arc of the game is quite good, and it comes with some excellent developments. However, this storyline is mostly progressed only in the hallways between floors. The events that occur on each floor are self-contained, usually having something to do with the loss of memory but otherwise having no regard for the rest of the game. They also have little resemblance to the events of the first game or of the original Disney movies from which they originate other than sharing the same characters. In Riku's mission, the floors had no story at all and were merely battlegrounds to saunter through between boss battles. This led me to regard the floor events as tedium to wade through in order to get to the next hallway.

In the end, I did not find Chain of Memories to be much fun. In fact, it is one of the worst games I have played since I got back into gaming. I endured it because I wanted to complete the series, but I could not wait for the game to be over. Its only redeeming quality is that the events of this game are closely tied to Kingdom Hearts II, and it may be necessary to play Chain of Memories to experience the full story of the series. However, unless you can endure hours of frustration and repetition, I would not recommend this game at all on gameplay grounds, regardless of how much you enjoyed the rest of the series.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.0 - Terrible

Originally Posted: 01/23/12

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

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